To celebrate the new year, Annapolis sailor Ryan Breymaier will share a one-bunk, one-burner boat with a guy from Germany as they race around the world without stopping — three months of freeze-dried food and freezing-cold bodies.
Not exactly a Carnival cruise.
But the man nicknamed "Tarzan" during his collegiate sailing career at St. Mary's College of Maryland thrives on howling, bucking conditions that would send the rest of us in search of the entertainment director. In fact, Breymaier is the only American in the 25,000-mile Barcelona World Race, which begins today and will end in late March.
"Sailing a 60-foot boat with two guys for one day is simple. For 85 days, it gets to be a big job," said Breymaier, 35, in a phone call. "But the end result is going to be a pretty cool thing to tell the grandkids."
His teammate aboard Neutrogena Norwegian Formula is Boris Herrmann, 29, who has twice raced solo across the Atlantic and competed in the 2008-09 Portimão Global Ocean Race, a five-leg race around the world.
St. Mary's sailing coach Adam Werblow called Breymaier a "water rat" perfectly suited to the "he-man" proportions of the Barcelona competition.
Fifteen boats are entered in the race, which follows the Great Circle route — the shortest possible line around the globe — past Africa's Cape of Good Hope, Cape Leeuwin at the southwestern point of Australia, and South America's Cape Horn.
The field includes Alex Thomson, the youngest skipper to win a global contest — the 1999 The Clipper Round the World Race, two-time Vendee Globe winner Michel Desjoyeaux and Dee Caffari, who has circumnavigated the world solo, once in each direction.
Being the only American isn't a big deal, Breymaier said, "because to have pressure, you have to have competition. Most Americans won't even notice this."
But he certainly took notice of global sailors in April 1998, when he watched the Whitbread Round The World Race yachts arrive in Baltimore and Annapolis. Seeing EF Language, the eventual winner skippered by American Paul Cayard, helped convince Breymaier to ditch his career as a mortgage banker for a life of competitive sailing.
"I was super, super lucky to find something I love and something I'm good at," said Breymaier, whose economics degree now gets used to help budget and administer his racing efforts and find sponsors.
But the lack of interest in short-handed, long-distance races in the states led him to temporarily relocate to France four years ago with his wife Nicola. He found work with Neutrogena's previous owner, Roland Bilou Jordain, who sailed the boat (known as Veolia Environnement) in the first edition of the Barcelona World Race and in the Vendee Globe.
He met Herrmann in the casual way sailors get to know one another when they live in a nautical community and use the same port. They shared the love of adventure and the sea.
"It's nothing complicated," said Breymaier. "This isn't a pleasure cruise. This is a professional race and we're professional sailors. Anything more than that is a plus."
For three months, Breymaier and Herrmann's world will be as immense as the ocean around them and as small as a walk-in closet. Their boat, launched in 2004, was designed before "weight-saving measures became an unhealthy obsession," Breymaier said.
While that doesn't mean Neutrogena has a galley with a Viking range and Sub-Zero refrigerator, it does translate into a rock-solid platform "with a sweet manner" that doesn't submarine sailing down wind, he said.
Having just two men aboard will keep swashbuckling to a minimum. They will have to anticipate bad weather and change sails early, bringing the boat to a complete stop before furling one sail and unfurling another.
"It's less spectacular but at the end of the day, you have to stay in one piece. There's no room for error so the mindset has to be different. If one person hurts himself, that's 50 percent of the crew," he said. "But the idea of not coming back from the trip doesn't cross your mind."
Even though the race isn't likely to capture the attention of most Americans, it will be a major topic of conversation on the campus where Breymaier's racing career began.
"His friends at St. Mary's could not be more proud of his accomplishments and can't wait to hear about the adventure upon his safe return," said Werblow.
Weeks before the race, Breymaier said butterflies were starting to set in. Friday, though, it will be all business.
"You're super-hot to leave the dock and super-hot to finish," he said, laughing. "The how-many-miles-do-we-have-to-go clock will start when land disappears."
After the race is over, Breymaier hopes to turn his attention to recruiting the next generation of sailors.
"Everybody loves a sea story and everybody is interested in sailing around the world," he said. "It would be super-cool to show up in Baltimore with this boat and get kids out on the water."