Magnus Olsson and his Nordic crew onboard Ericsson 3 won Leg Five of the Volvo Ocean Race March 26, completing the epic 12,300-nautical course in slightly more than 41 days.
By Chipp Reid
It’s official. Rocky Balboa is Swedish and he doesn’t box, he sails.
Magnus Olsson and his Nordic crew onboard Ericsson 3 completed the fabled boxer’s metamorphosis from ring king to master of sea as they won Leg Five of the Volvo Ocean Race March 26, completing the epic 12,300-nautical course in slightly more than 41 days.
“This is unbelievable. It is happiness that I can’t even explain. It’s unbelievable. I think we deserve it. As bad as everything went, we deserve it,” Olsson said. “Coming there tired, carbon dust all over the boat and eight hours late and a few guys new in the crew and all that, but we managed to turn it all around. It’s fantastic.”
The Nordic crew relished in its role as Volvo Race Rocky. In fact, Olsson and his sailors outdid the Italian Stallion using Apollo Creed as his manager when Ericsson 3 navigator Aksel Magdahl defied all logic and sailed north when every other boat sailed south.
Magdahl, with Olsson’s approval made his move on March 4 when, with second place in hand, Ericsson 3 crossed the scoring gate at 36 degrees south, then dismissed the most common convention of Southern Ocean sailing.
Instead of diving to the high latitudes, the Nordics let the pack sail away while they turned around and changed their bearing from 161 degrees to 51 degrees. Magdahl, like all the other navigators, saw the potential of staying north to avoid a high pressure system and utilize the breeze of lower pressure.
While his rivals went with conventional thinking and turned south, Magdahl rolled the dice.
At first, the gamble seemed preposterous. Ericsson 3 dropped into last place, but three days later, with fresh winds at her back, the Swedish yacht was in first. Three days after that, the Nordic crew held a 280-mile lead over their International counterparts on Ericsson 4. That lead would shrink to just six nautical miles as the boats rounded Cape Horn, but Olsson and the Nordics held on for the victory.
“The northerly route didn't seem special at the time but when all the rest did not follow us then it suddenly seemed a big decision and very important,” Magdahl said. “It then became the biggest sailing decision of my life, the biggest sailing moment of my life, that is for sure.”
It was just as big for the rest of the crew.
"It was a great, great call by Aksel,” said Thomas Johansson. “We all believe in him and he believes in us. He has taken a risk after a lot of thought and it has had a great result.
But the decision had a lot to it. We had to sail really well to make it work. We had to push 100% to make it. It was tough for the boat and the crew to be in that low pressure with a really bad sea state.”
Ericsson 3 won the laurels of the longest Volvo leg in history. For the Nordics, the 12,300-nautical mile, 41-day journey wasn’t even the hardest part of the race. The hardest part was simply being able to compete.
Ericsson 3 hit heavy weather during Leg Four to Qindao, China. A massive wave cracked the hull, forcing Olsson to limp into Hainan, Taiwan to make emergency repairs. The boat eventually finished the race on Feb. 14, five hours after the rest of the fleet departed on its journey to Rio. Ericsson 3, after a three-hour rest, began its odyssey. Olsson said three things were key to the victory.
“(First) we had a fantastic strategy,” Olsson said. “Aksel did a fantastic job and we executed that strategy in a very, very skilled way. We were so tired but everyone was fighting on with enormous spirit. Everyone was fighting for each other. And the third thing was we nursed the boat very well. We didn’t have any breakdowns.”
The Ericsson 3 skipper also stressed the importance of teamwork throughout the race. Although he added several new crewmen in Taiwan — part of scheduled rotation of sailors — Olsson said the new mariners meshed seamlessly with the old.
“The spirit we had on the boat is unbelievable,” he said. “That is why we won — the spirit we have on the boat is unbelievable. There is so much power that gets in the right direction. It’s not a lot of power in all directions but in one direction. Everyone works together, there is no prestige and that’s really nice.
The 60-year-old Olsson is racing his sixth round-the-world race but his first as the sole captain. He served as watch captain and helmsman in previous races. Known as much for his sense of humor as for his nautical skills, the Swedish skipper said he believes his crew received a little extra help.
“We are not so sinful as the people on the other boats,” Olsson said with a laugh. “God is good to the people who are not so sinful. We only have good boys with wives.”
Ericsson finished the leg in slightly more than 41 days, 3 hours. Ericsson 4 crossed the finish line 12 hours later.
Ericsson 4 continues to lead the overall standings with 63.5 points. Ericsson 3 is in fourth place with 43 points.
Ericsson 3 skipper Magnus Olsson celebrates after he guided the yacht in Rio de Janeiro March 26, 2009 to win Leg Five of the Volvo Ocean Race. Photo: Dave Kneale/Volvo Ocean Race