After competing in his sixth Volvo Ocean Race, the fabled round-the-world regatta, Magnus Olsson shows no signs of slowing down.
by Chipp Reid
The singular moment of the 2008-09 Volvo Ocean Race came in Leg Four. Swedish yacht Ericsson 3 was on her way to Qindoa, China when she slammed into a wave in the South China Sea. The wave tore a 14-foot hole in the hull and sent the crew flying around the 70-foot boat.
For skipper Magnus Olsson, there was only one thing to do.
“We had to work together and we did. We kept fighting and never gave up,” Olsson said. “I think God was with us a little bit.”
Olsson managed to nurse his crippled boat into Taiwan, where she underwent emergency repairs. He eventually finished the leg, pulling into the Chinese port four hours after the rest of the racing fleet embarked on Leg Five. Despite the delayed start, Ericsson not only caught up to the other boats, she passed them after Olsson gambled on a risky maneuver. The Swede led his boat to victory in the 12,300-nautical mile Leg Five, which ran from Qindoa to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
“We were part of history in a couple of ways,” he said. “It was the longest leg in the history of the Volvo Ocean Race, so just being there was special. Of course, the fact we won the leg was even more special.”
Ericsson 3 eventually finished fourth in the race, a result Olsson said was “as good as winning, but winning would have made it even better.” Olsson sailed with an all-Scandinavian crew. Race winner Ericsson 4, under Brazilian (of Danish descent) skipper Torben Grael, won the race.
“There was very little difference between the boats,” Olsson said. “Torben deserved to win. He had a fantastic crew and he sailed really well.”
The 2008-09 Volvo was the sixth round-the-world sailing race for Olsson, who has been part of two America’s Cup challenges. At age 61, the Swede shows no signs of slowing down.
“I would like to be a big part of one more Volvo campaign,” he said. “I would like to put together another Scandinavian challenge. We had a really good chance to win with Ericsson 3 and I think it is good for the younger generation of Scandinavian sailors.”
Olsson took over as captain of E3 after Leg Three, when former skipper Anders Lewander injured his leg. Prior to being on the boat, Olsson helped select the crewmen and was also part of putting together the onshore team. He said the riggers, welders, sailmakers, fiberglass technicians and others never receive the credit they deserve.
“That is such a shame because they play such a big part in any long, offshore race,” he said. “It’s the sailors who make all the headlines but after we’re done sailing during the day, the shore people are up all night working on the boat. You can never win a race without good shore crew.”
Olsson said his goal now is to mount a completely all-Scandinavian challenge, from the captain to the shore crew. He realizes he faces some major hurdles.
“It is a struggle,” he said. “Racing is not a big sport in Sweden and it will probably always be small, but I think we can do much better. We have such a wonderful foundation and so many people that do sail. I think we can have a lot more young people stay in sailing if we have some success in the big races.”
Olsson himself could be a draw. Arguably the most accomplished Swedish offshore racer ever, Olsson is just as famous for his sense of humor as he his for sailing ability.
“I learned the hard way that when you have something touchy to say, it’s always better to do it with some humor,” he said. “It’s important to have a happy crew, a crew that laughs. Sometimes a crew can be too focused, too tense and you can’t do that the whole time. You have to have a good laugh.”
The skipper’s love for Volvo race could also be a draw. Olsson adores the new class of Volvo boat, a 70-foot dart of lightweight steel, fiberglass and carbon fiber that can slice through the ocean waves at speeds up to 20 knots. He also has a reverence for the ocean that is infectious.
“I feel humble in front of nature,” he said. “I think it’s very important to have that. It’s why ocean racing people are very often in a special class. I always feel it in my personality. It’s a good thing.”
Olsson also said he would like to lend a hand to a proper America’s Cup challenge. Although Swedish businessman Torbjorn Tornqvist is mounting a challenge, he has just one Swede in his “Swedish challenge.” The rest are Americans, Australians and New Zealanders.
“I think we need a real Scandinavian challenge,” Olsson said, “but the America’s Cup rules changed. People don’t need to be from the country of the flag they sail under.”
As for his age, the 61-year-old skipper said he believes a “gray challenge” might be just prove age really is just a number, at least in sailing.
“I think we should have an over-50 boat,” he said with a laugh. “We could do two campaigns. Everyone thinks sailors have to be young but I think an over-50 boat could do very well.”
For now, as winter turns to spring, Olsson is enjoying himself in Sweden. He remained in Stockholm where he had a “proper Swedish winter” that included skiing and skating. He plans to get back on the water this month and expects to race in the Archipelago Regatta, a small-boat race (18-foot catamarans) around the Stockholm archipelago.
“I have to start training,” he said. “It’s getting warmer now so I can go biking. I have to be ready because I hope to beat some of those young sailors.”
“It’s going to be fun,” he said. “I have that feeling now like I need to get back on the water.”
Ericsson 3 skipper Magnus Olsson dons a tri-corn hat as he celebrates April 26, 2009 after finishing second in Leg Six of the Volvo Ocean Race. Dave Kneale/Volvo Ocean Race