After 37,000 nautical miles of racing that included near-runs with icebergs, boat-breaking waves and the threat of pirate attacks, Torben Grael and Magnus Olsson say they are ready for more.
by Chipp Reid
Call them Captains Courageous … or Captains Crazy.
After 37,000 nautical miles of racing that included near-runs with icebergs, boat-breaking waves and the threat of pirate attacks, Torben Grael and Magnus Olsson say they are ready for more. Grael, captain of the International Crew on Volvo Ocean Race-winning yacht Ericsson 4 and Olsson, who led the Nordic Crew to fourth place on Ericsson 3, both said they were ready to do it all over again.
“Sure, why not” said the 60-year-old Olsson. “I would love to be part of the next race in some fashion. I’m not that old but in what way, I don’t know.”
Although enthusiastic, Olsson said the 2008-09 round-the-world race took a lot out of him.
“This has been an extremely tough campaign,” he said. “Mentally, physically — it takes a lot out of you and I am still very sleepy. I really haven’t had the chance to catch up on my sleep.”
For Grael, a five-time Olympic medalist from Brazil, the Volvo race is the crowning achievement in a sailing career that also includes winning the Louis Vitton as a challenger of record in the America’s Cup.
“It was very tough, the boats were very close for most of the race,” he said. “It was intense. To win you had to make the right decisions at the right time and work hard on speed of the boats the whole time. To come out on top in such a difficult environment, with all those leg wins is a fantastic feeling.”
It was a feeling Grael nearly missed. John Kostecki was the original choice as skipper for Ericsson 4, but when health problems forced him to drop out, the Ericsson team turned to the Brazilian. At the time however, Grael had eyes set on the America’s Cup. In the end it was Grael’s daughter who had the casting vote. “My daughter said ‘you’ve got to do the Volvo, it’s much better.’”
The result was better than even the Ericsson 4 could have imagined. He won the first two legs and finished in the top three in two of the next three before stamping his authority with wins in three of the final four legs. There were also two waypoint and in-port race series victories and a 24-hour monohull record for good measure.
“The record on the first leg was fantastic, winning a leg and getting to the arrival harbor and having crowds waiting there to celebrate with you is nice,” he said. “The experience of going to India and China was great, and going round Cape Horn is always special. This time we got there in 55 knots and had problems with the steering. It’s very dangerous and you run a lot of risks, you are close to the limit. It’s good once you’ve done it and survived. That’s why you do this race.”
“It’s such a beautiful event,” he said. “It consists of everything from laughing to crying, family life, money, icebergs — everything is there. It’s a wonderful event. I hope these younger skippers bring on more competitors and make this the best global sporting event there is.”
Like Grael, Olsson took over as captain from someone else. He was a watch captain when Anders Lewander injured his knee on Leg Two and had to leave the boat. Olsson was the logical choice to lead the collection of Swedish, Norwegian, Finnish, Danish and New Zealanders of the Nordic Crew. He said he tried to keep things simple.
“I kept to what I am good at even more,” Olsson said. “As a skipper you have to create a platform of joy, of happiness for people to be able to take on responsibility to grow in their field, to create this team that has a lot of energy and make sure all the energy goes in the right direction. If you do this, you’re a happy skipper and I am very happy.”
For both skippers, the 10-month race is something that is now in their blood. If Olsson is on a boat in 2011-12, it would be his seventh Volvo race. Grael said he just might be there, too.
“This race is not easy,” he said. “It’s very hard on your body and very draining on your mind. But it’s fantastic sailing and it’s what brings us back. If it’s done properly and it’s a fun project, then it’s very likely I’ll come back.”