Travel Tales Part II: Horses, Sailboat, and Guns
It's one thing to make it to the Olympics. It's another to get there with a half-ton of gear. Equestrians and sailors pack that much and more. And while shooters don't pack heavy, they pack heat - in their bags, of course.
This is the second of three articles that examines how Olympic athletes manage traveling with unwieldy gear.
Will Faudree, who competes in equestrian's three-day event, says his horse, Antigua, "knows when he gets on a plane that he's going somewhere fun."
The pair has already been to Australia, New Zealand, and several countries in Europe together. If they qualify for the 2008 Olympic equestrian event (to be held in Hong Kong) Faudree's horse will be required to travel with a horse passport which details his body markings and vaccinations and bears stamps from past competitions.
When traveling overseas, the horse is quarantined for several hours before it gets to the airport. The duration depends on the arrival country. (Before a horse may enter the US, for example, it must be quarantined 36 hours before the flight.)
After the quarantine, Faudree picks up his horse and drives to the airport. There, a van takes Antigua to a fiberglass box called a pallet, which can house two or three horses during the flight. Next, the pallet is loaded onto a trolley which leads to a lift that transports the horse (in his pallet) onto the plane.
The series of vehicles is necessary because a horse isn't allowed to touch the ground after being quarantined.
Once the horses are loaded, Faudree gets out of the pallet and crawls toward a seat behind the cockpit for takeoff. On domestic flights, Faudree usually takes Fed Ex planes and once the door closes, "it's just us, the horses, the pilots, and the mail," he said.
There's no view because the windows are in back near the horses. There's no heat. There's also no horse bathroom. "It's not bad because you're sitting in front," Faudree contends.
The upside of flying cargo is that the horses never get lost. "Someone's always with them. They're so well taken care for," Faudree said. "When [Antigua] gets on a plane, it's all about him. It's really exciting from start to finish - for the horse."
Not so for sailors. Austin Sperry competes in the Star boat, the largest and heaviest class of Olympic sailboats. In mid-May, he shipped two of his 1,475-lb. boats to China, along with eight masts and two motorboats. But first, he had to wait a week in Miami for a two containers to become available.
"I don't know if the weak dollar and big export business is creating a shortage of containers, but it's the first time that's happened," he said.
Each container is 40 feet long and 10 feet high. If Sperry were to lay the masts horizontally across his 22-foot boats, they would hang six feet off the bow and four feet off the stern, so Sperry ties them to the walls of the container.
Next, he wheels in the first boat - stern first - and secures it diagonally fore and aft with hefty ratchet straps. The second boat enters bow first, so the two boats meet bow-to-bow at a slight angle. Before the second boat is tied down, Sperry has a trick. He shuts the door.
"If it's not in far enough, you're in big trouble. If it overhangs by an inch, the door won't close and you'll have to start over," he said.
Lastly, Sperry fills out a "carnet," an inventory of the container's contents, including serial numbers of the trailers and the hulls.
All told, the entire process takes Sperry about four hours. For China, he made one concession. To comply with a 2005 export rule, he removed wooden packing material to reduce the risk of sending foreign insects overseas. "The guy said, ‘Don't put wood in there!' about three times," Sperry said.
Sperry's containers were due to arrive in China on June 13 (one month later). He planned to meet the ship to unload the boats himself.
"It's a big thing I like to do," he said. "Often stevedores try to do it. I saw one take out a container with a forklift in the Bahamas and put holes in it."
Sperry has not had any travel disasters. "Maybe I can attribute that to my anal-ness," he said, but he knows the horror stories. "I've heard of containers falling off the ship in the middle of the ocean. It's happened to people I've known."
In all, Sperry and his teammate, John Dane, plan to have three Star boats at the Olympics. A third one is being built in Germany which Sperry may send by air.
Don't ask how to fly a boat across two continents.
"It's still being sorted out," he said.
Back at the airport, where officials confiscate water and pat down grandmothers "for security reasons," Olympic shooters show up with firearms.
Jason Turner, a two-time Olympian, travels with two air pistols. When he arrives, he tells the agent that he's traveling with a firearm (although he is not asked to produce a gun license).
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) requires that all firearms must be checked through and locked. The ironic twist is that checked baggage is not allowed to be locked - so TSA agents must check Turner's case by hand and tag it, and Turner must prove that his pistols aren't loaded.
Airline regulations also require the ammunition be kept separate from firearms, so Turner puts his ammo in with his clothes. "It's just lead pellet, no gunpowder," he said, "but with a 22 there is. A lot of those guys have small hard-sided cases for their ammo."
The airlines haven't lost Turner's guns in eight years, but travel does not always go smoothly. At Turner's first international competition, the 1998 World Championships, the US team changed planes in Paris and when the team arrived in Barcelona, several gun boxes had been cut open and their pistols had been removed, "including our top guy's, Daryl Szarenski's," he said.
"The biggest advice I have is to take the grips off and put it in your carry on. We tinker with our pistol grips they fit like a glove. I've had grips broken in flight. It doesn't matter how softly they're packed."
Corey Cogdell, a 2008 US Olympic trap shooter carries a 12-gauge shot gun with a 30-inch barrel and a 20-inch stock. All told, it weighs 8 or 9 lbs, and she keeps it in a plastic case with dense foam inside.
Cogdell follows the same airport procedure as Turner, with one exception. "We don't carry ammunition. We used to, but regulations changed, so we make arrangements to receive ammunition where we compete."
Customs can easily take three to five hours. "There's a lot of paperwork when you travel with 10-12 people with guns. If we're with the rifle and pistol team, we can have up to 25 people," she said.
In April, Cogdell was in Beijing for the Olympic test event. As she and the team were leaving for home, they were told their guns made it from the competition hall to the Chinese airport, "but we didn't know where in the airport," she said. (Beijing's new Terminal 3 is reportedly the largest building in the world, twice the size of the Pentagon.)
Eventually, the organizing committee discovered that the truck carrying them kept circling because it couldn't park outside with the guns. "Good thing we were there four hours in advance," Cogdell said. "That's why we have test events, I guess."
Next: How to travel with bows, arrows and swords.
Aimee Berg is a freelance contributor for teamusa.org. This story was not subject to the approval of the United States Olympic Committee or any National Governing Bodies.