Dream Jobs: Sailing Race Around The World
Day Job: Onboard Reporter, 11th Hour Racing Team
Home Base: Newport, Rhode Island
Hobbies: Kiteboarding, flying airplanes, skiing, hockey
Amory Ross surveys a windswept beach on the coast of Rhode Island. Up the rocky shoreline, a picturesque lighthouse can be seen in the distance. It’s May, but overnight snowfall has yielded a cold, overcast day. This, along with swiftly gusting wind and crashing waves, creates a distinctive atmosphere that’s invigorating to a select few, and a persuasive argument to stay indoors for most.
He walks down a sandy section towards the Atlantic Ocean, clearly at home in the elements. “Eventually I’ll be training with my team again,” Amory says over the roaring sound of the wind and waves, “but nobody knows when things will pan out with visas and travel. I’ve been kiteboarding a lot, and aviation has really been intriguing me, I’m in the process of getting my pilot’s license.”
Wearing a thick wetsuit with the hood pulled back, his salt and pepper hair and close trimmed beard are visible. Amory holds up a palm sized wind meter, showing speed of about 26 knots. “A friend of mine has a really cool World War II fighter, a warbird, and yesterday was the 75th anniversary of victory in Europe so we flew from Newport to New York to do a formation fly by over the Statue of Liberty. It was incredible, really special,” he says with a calm demeanor, and an easy smile. “It doesn’t take away from boating, but flight lessons have begun a new passion - because I gave it a chance.” Amory begins preparing kitesurfing gear, and waves at the arrival of a friend from his days as a Jackson Hole ski instructor.
“So many people make excuses, but life is short. If there’s something that intrigues or excites you, it at the very least deserves a thorough introspective investigation,” he says. “Who knows what adventures and opportunities people might have waiting for them, that some never find because they don’t want to go outside their comfort zone. There’s always a way - if you’re willing to take on a challenge and learn something new.”
What is your team, and what are you training for?
The 11th Hour Racing Sailing Team, we are preparing for the next around the world race.
Sailing around the world is not something many people ever experience, and it’s part of your job. What is the gist of your career path?
The America’s Cup, the around the world Ocean Race, and the Olympics are the three pinnacles of the sport of sailing. I’ve been in a cycle of these three events.
Most of what happens is far from TV cameras or spectators, in the middle of the sea. My job is to capture everything through photos, videos, and writing, and share that story.
You’ve raced around the world several times - what draws you to do it again?
The goal is to win the race.
This is a veteran team, haha I hate to sound old, but everyone is very well experienced and we know that we all get along. It’s also exciting to see how technology and designs continue to advance. The boats are lighter, stronger, faster. The boats will be a lot different, we’re building a new boat, a foiling 60 footer. The foils are like wings that lift the boat out of the water.
How has the pandemic changed your plans?
Late last year, we sailed our training boat from Brazil to France. We expected to be training in Europe right now, but work on the boat is on hold and our team is scattered all over the world. We have sailors who are Australian but living in Sweden, or English who live in Australia. Eventually we will resume sailing, and race around the world.
How long does the race take?
Ten months. You’re under immense pressure racing 24/7, day and night, for up to 25 or 30 days at a time.
How do you sleep?
You share a carbon fiber cot and sleeping bag. When you’re not in it, your bunk partner is. There’s a net pulled tight to hold you in, because the boat is slamming around in the waves. Everything’s wet, it’s a cramped space, and it’s either freezing cold or 120 degrees, no in between. It’s always noisy, there are no walls, there is no level of comfort.
Amo, this sounds like a sufferfest.
It’s not easy on the body or the mind. You learn your limits and how far you can push them.
Do things break on the boat while you’re racing?
Yes! On my first race, we were stranded in the middle of the South Atlantic when our mast came down. We only had food for four more days. We were 2300 miles from anywhere. It was serious.
What did you do?!
We sent out a Pan-Pan, one step below a Mayday.
We ended up on an island called Tristan da Cunha, waiting a week for a pick up. We would have won the race had it not been for that, but it’s an experience we were lucky to have. The island is so remote, it’s not on most maps. There are 250 people, there’s no airport, no harbor, it’s cut off from civilization. The only business is exporting frozen lobster, once every 4 months a boat comes to pick up all these lobsters. They are delicious. We went hiking to the volcanic summit of the island. There was snow at the top, way above the clouds. It was incredible.
That’s a crazy story. Do you have any favorite places from the race?
Cape Horn. It is the Everest of sailing. There are some places that make you feel like yourself, a feeling that you’re exactly where you should be. It makes you feel very alive, and lucky to be there.
I think most people imagine sailing as something relaxing on a sunny day. This race sounds VERY intense.
There’s a whole other side of sailing. The sport can be different than what people assume. In the southern latitudes, you’re not far from Antarctica. It’s very windy, and the waves are big. From the crest to the bottom of the swell can be 35 or 40 feet, and there are snow squalls.
Do you like being in the middle of the ocean in that type of weather, stormy cold and huge waves?
I love it. I love any kind of dramatic moody environment, I really like being out in it.
I’m with you on that… sounds about right for someone who lived in Jackson.
Definitely typical of Jacksonites. That love of going a little harder than everyone else, and enjoying it. It’s a town of people that challenge you and make you better, not just in adventures and athleticism but being a person.
You’ve been to some of the most remote areas on the planet. Is pollution something you notice quite a bit in the ocean?
It’s everywhere. You wouldn’t believe how much plastic is in the ocean.
A year or two ago, I sailed across the pacific for a great surf adventure. I met (pro snowboarder) Travis Rice through the America’s Cup. Red Bull was one of our sponsors, he’s a Red Bull athlete and he’s really into sailing, boats, fishing, and surfing.
Travis had a sailboat they used in the movie, “The Fourth Phase.” The boat was in Tahiti, and he had to get it back to Hawaii. There were four of us on the boat. Myself, Travis, Ian Walsh who is one of the worlds best big wave surfers, and Graham Scott, one of Travis’ best friends from Jackson.
We took a 21 day trip, looking for surf, making a short film, and collecting water samples to be analyzed at a lab. In the middle of the pacific, one of the most remote stretches of ocean in the world, nearly all samples had micro plastic contamination. It’s not just busy waterways, it is everywhere.
That is mind boggling. It’s also mind boggling that this is your real life. When we met, you spent winters ski instructing in Jackson and summers doing sailing photography. Since then you’ve been consistently taking on new adventures. You have a crazy interesting life!
I don’t take it for granted, I promise you. I appreciate how lucky I am.
How did you get into sailing?
I didn’t sail much as a kid. Once a summer we’d visit cousins on Martha’s Vinyard, and I loved it. I’d go home to New Jersey consumed with the ocean, and tear pages out of sailing magazines and tape them to my wall.
We had a pond in our backyard. In the winter I played hockey, and in the summer I had a remote control sail boat. In high school, I had my remote control sailboat on a pond at school. There happened to be a guy working in the school admissions department who saw me with my boat and asked if I liked sailing. He was a veteran of the America’s Cup, I was really lucky to have him help me into sailing and open doors for me.
I started finding summer jobs in Newport. I worked for a sail maker, North Sails, and for Sailing World Magazine. That’s where I found my interest in writing, taking photos, and being creative.
I went to Hobart and Williams Smith for college. I was focused on finance, but senior year I bought a camera and decided to give sailing a chance. That was the beginning of the ride that I’m still on. It’s a dream come true. And some of those photographers whose pictures I was taping to my wall as a kid, they are now dear friends.
How did Jackson factor into your progression with sailing?
Before my first around the world race, I really wanted to get that job. The responsibilities are to write, take photos, and make a video every day. I could write and take photos, but I didn’t know anything about video. I thought going to a place where ski movies are made was the perfect idea.
I had no idea how to ski! I did the instructor hiring clinic, and I failed! But the people at ski school were so great. They said I had good attitude, and offered me the chance to work on my ability. They hired me to help inside with kids, and as my skills improved I started teaching beginners. I was skiing and learning every day from my friends, the other instructors. I fell in love with skiing, and Jackson, and even though my results improving my video skills were pretty meager, I did end up getting the job for the around the world race.
I really love this message and reminder. That you can always start where you are, and keep learning and improving. No one is an expert right at the beginning, the key is to just start.
I think there’s value in getting out of your comfort zone. I always thought it was a great concept, to never stop learning in life. It’s a never ending pursuit, and challenges are rewarding.
Does a typical day or week exist for you?
Definitely not, which is just as enjoyable as it is infuriating! I’ve never had routines. It is exhausting, but also interesting.
What are some things you love?
Hockey. Weather. Aviation. History. Maps, topographic maps or nautical charts - cartography is an art. My boat that I’ve had for 12 years, a small powerboat called Slapshot. It’s a vintage ride, a 1992 hull, so it looks classic …. and sometimes performs classically as well haha.
Do you know yourself well?
I’ve got a good handle on what makes me who I am. I’ve had serious highs and lows, and learned a lot about myself at both ends of the spectrum. I think we are all just very lucky to be here.
Thanks for sharing, Amo!
More about Amory:
Short video about Amory's job:
More on 11th Hour Racing:
Check out their sustainability initiatives
Lines to Hawaii, sailing and surfing from Tahiti to Hawaii with Travis Rice:
Note - They partnered with Adventure Scientists in Bozeman to test the water samples
More about the Ocean Race: