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On Watch - Sam Greenfield

Sam GreenfieldAs the Onboard Reporter (OBR) with Dongfeng Race Team in the Volvo Ocean Race 2014-15, Sam Greenfield made yacht racing history by becoming the first OBR to successfully fly a drone from a Volvo Ocean 65 at speed. Sam recently spent 18 months in Bermuda as part of ORACLE TEAM USA’s media crew for the 35th America’s Cup, and he’s currently preparing for the Volvo Ocean Race 2017-18, which starts next month in Alicante, Spain.

© Sam Greenfield/Dongfeng Race Team/Volvo Ocean Race

“I grew up in Noank, CT, a (former) fishing and shipbuilding village on Fishers Island Sound,” says Sam, who had several sailing mentors. “When you grow up in a village, you end up raised by it. I was four or five when I got into a Dyer Dhow for the first time. It all spiraled from there. My grandfather, Frank Murphy (aka Old Dog) got my brother and I onto the water via rowboats and really slow wooden boat racing. He taught us that it was possible to lose your hat on the starting line, and with the luck of the Irish, pick it up on the final run some hours later, and never lose your cool in between! Our neighbors, Carol & Paul Connor, sponsored us at Ram Island Yacht Club’s junior sailing program when we weren’t members, which taught us that anyone could have access to sailing.”

“Then there was my friend’s dad, Carl Fast, who brought all of the neighborhood kids out on his Santana 30/30 for Wednesday night races and introduced us to keelboats and overnight racing. Carl taught us that sailing’s a sport you can do your entire life, and to never deny someone a ride because they lack experience. Then, and maybe most importantly, my uncle Frank Murphy, Jr. taught us that sailing is all about the characters and their wild stories. His tales made legends of all the adults around us on the racecourse, even if it was just beercan racing. Those stories of Southern Ocean Racing Conference adventures – and Mystic River Mudheads throwing couches off bridges – has a lot to do with why I became an OBR.”

“The Mudheads are the best because anyone can join,” Sam enthuses. “It’s a no-nonsense-racing-then-party organization and the best way to get into sailing on Eastern Long Island Sound. It doesn’t matter if you’re new to the area, a former professional, or just want a ticket to the summer’s best parties. They were founded in the ‘70s by a bunch of my childhood sailing idols (including Carl and Frank, Jr.) because the local yacht clubs wouldn’t let them compete without club affiliation. Think Caddyshack: You don’t belong, so make your own club. Have fun. Throw the best Christmas parties…and try not to get arrested. Since then they’ve polished their act and grown into one of the area’s largest Wednesday night fleets, but the best thing is their newest flagship program, MudRatz, which allows youth sailors to take their game to the next level by practicing and racing in donated Melges 24s, locally and around the country. I wish we’d had MudRatz growing up!”

Sam had done a few Newport Bermuda Races and deliveries before signing on for the Volvo, but a 9-month, 40,000-mile ‘round-the-world race was nevertheless a huge step. “I volunteered on Spirit of Bermuda and sailed to Haiti, but besides that the biggest, most high performance keelboat I’d sailed offshore was a J/44. At first it was the Volvo Ocean Race photos that drew me in, then the adventure of it all. During the final push to join the race there was a real threat of college loan payments, coupled with the realization that I was incapable of studying for anything like the LSATs. In 2012, I gave myself a two-year ultimatum to make it to the race, and if that failed, to try the LSATs. Luckily, it worked out and the world was spared another lawyer! I wanted to cover the race more than anything else but was told it wouldn’t happen, so getting the call to jump onboard Dongfeng only five days before we left for China was surreal. And winning the leg into Newport, the only finish my family could attend, was probably the best day of my life.”

For the VOR 2017-18, OBRs are contracted by the race, not individual teams. “That means we can be shuffled around and cover multiple teams,” Sam explains. “This edition’s cast of OBRs has to be OK with not being a part of the sailing team. On the plus side, our photo collections will have a lot of color variation…I’ve got a lot of ‘red’ photos from the last race.”

“The Onboard Reporter (OBR) is the direct link between the race yacht crew and the rest of the world. Every day, you shoot and send a small selection of the day’s best photos, a 3-to 4-minute video, and a 500-word blog. In the last edition, I also had to cook each meal and manage the food…we’ll see how that goes down this race.”

Sam proudly serves as the judge of the OBR competition in the Secor Volvo Fishers Island Sound Race, a 2-day, multi-leg distance race for 420s created by MudRatz founder Brandon Flack and inspired by the VOR. “I’ve been judging that competition for the past three summers, and it’s awesome to see junior sailors taking cameras out on the water and covering the action. It’s a great way to relive the glory days and keep an eye on up-and-coming talent from the hometown!”

Sam advises aspiring young reporters to “Get obsessed! Start shooting. Create your own style, and tell the story like no one else. Volunteer and cover as many events as you can, and expect to not get paid for a long time. Try to get experience outside of sailing. More and more, the VOR is vetting OBRs from outside the scene with professional journalism experience. Be prepared to commit to becoming a multimedia reporter, and make sure you’re having fun the entire way!”


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  • commented 2017-09-06 21:54:04 -0400
    Sam: Great job out there. Hopefully we shall see you back in Noank sometime.

    Michael Ryan
    Commodore
    Mystic River Yacht Club
    (& Noank Resident)
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WindCheck Magazine November December