01/17/2011 12:17 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The Only American in the Race

Barcelona World Race 2010 - 2011

article by Chauncey Zalkin
video by Peter Crosby

Most days along the Barcelona port, African immigrants unravel their draw-string blankets full of counterfeit goods as swarms of tourists line up for the one restaurant with a front row seat to the harbor and its boats belonging to Barcelona's wealthy and the international jetset touring the Mediterranean.

But on a morning walk the day before New Years Eve, my husband and I stumbled upon, first a photo exhibit of jaw-dropping photographs, some of the most remarkable points in the ocean around the world, then further on kids lined up with their parents to enter a simulated wind tunnel, extreme conditions out at sea, and finally a portable pool with toy sailboats zipping around under the gathering clouds. In the distance, a building made of inflated PVC and glass rose like an flame-hued organism breathing life into the dramatic skies of the final days of 2010.

As we followed the march of the curious down the pier at the end, instead of finding the prim white and blue sailboats that normally dot the southern view down to Barceloneta, we found slick state of the art sailing machines. These truly impressive vessels were covered in skins that looked more like the digital kind in video games than the vinyl film wrapped around racing cars (you just don't expect sailboats dressed up in such clothing). Each boat was different from the next and outfitted for two-person crews, heralded by banners brandishing their pictures, men and women that would soon take the helm and lead these boats on a ninety-day race around the world. Some had big spindly skipper wheels light years different from the ships ahoy style wooden spokes you find on the walls of sailor-themed restaurants. Others had electric tills that looked like they might lead boats through galaxies rather than past continents.

We looked around and deliberated who to talk to. Ropes separated onlookers from last minute preparations on board - checks on vital equipment, course-plotting, weather mapping, and below deck, the bobbing heads in the water belonging to scuba divers scouting the perimeters of the boats for flaws. Sailors hailed from around Europe as well as the UK and even New Zealand. There was only one boat manned by an American. Only one? That piqued my curiousity and we made a beeline for the man that matched the picture on the side of the boat.

Ryan Breymaier sat high up in the mast of the black and white Neutrogena boat, one hand in a pot as he pulls up thumbfulls of wax to rub into the rope. We asked if we could get on board and talk to him and explore the galley. After making our way through the criss-crossing ropes on the back of the boat, we kneeled down and began our interview. He was utterly relaxed. He'd done 30,000 miles on the boat, and had been living on it for a month or more leading up to that day. We were essentially sitting in the man's living room. He gave us some great insight on his being the sole representative of the U.S. 'America doesn't really go for individualist pursuits. The U.S. warms more to team sports, everyone sharing in the glory. Racing around buoys to a glorious finish in a group is more our thing (obviously referring to the America Cup which is indeed an ostentatious affair.)' I never gave much thought to world racing but I got this heart-thumping feeling like I was talking to a superhero which is more than a little silly but then it struck me; what Ryan is doing is more reminiscent of old-fashioned heroics. Sure he's connected 24/7 by broadband to the wider world and there are emergency measures in place to help in a worst case scenario but the reality is there is no one around for miles, no boat to save these two if the forces of nature decide to throw a wrench in their plan. At the end of the day, it's just two men and a boat. And the boat, as slick as it is, is no cruise ship.

The outside deck is a lean and nimble machine, yes, but the galley is a far cry from Larry Ellison's latest yacht. It's more like an unfinished casing no different from the hollow trunk size storage of a day boat. The pearl of this oyster is a modest sized computer screen with smaller screens on either side. The place where the two sailors bed down for the night, most likely in shifts, are cubbyholes with taut mesh platforms better suited for storage than human slumber. During our interview Ryan remarked on the professional nature of their pursuit. A funny word, professional, for an event with such a strong human element, also one in such a raw unfettered dance with nature, but you have to maintain a cool demeanor and be able to take any unforeseen event in stride, keeping your emotions in check as two people squeezed tightly into a 60 ft (18.28 m) sliver of space in the middle of the ocean. The wind, the caprice of the sea, the temperature, are not the only forces to contend with. You also have the solitude and the bare bones essence of the setting - but Ryan is positively unruffled by any of this. He looks forward to the wind and the sun, the challenge, and the experience. As we're leaving, and now bombarded by new people coming on board, he stepped away from the fray and tapped us, hey you know you can follow us online, grab a boat and race along with us and I'm brought back to the realization that the heart of this is the adventure. We're enchanted by the experience and the next day, before the race begins, Peter comes back to shoot the boats taking their places at the starting point in the Mediterranean not far from the statue of the quintessential explorer, Christopher Columbus, pointing out to sea. You can see Peter's impressionistic, hauntingly beautiful and poignant video below.

Prelude to an Odyssey from Peter Crosby on Vimeo.