In 2020/21, Boris Herrmann became the first German to take part in the legendary Vendée Globe, and despite a collision shortly before the finish line, he still managed to take fifth place.
The Vendée Globe is considered the toughest single-handed regatta in the world. We talked to Boris about the race and its challenges.
Boris, you had already successfully circumnavigated the globe four times in a sailboat before taking part in the Vendée Globe in 2020/21. What was your strategy for this race?
I sailed rather cautiously. I didn't want to be adrift in the Southern Ocean with a broken mast or other major damage. I am not a do-or-die sportsman. Maybe sometimes that can lead to quicker success, but when it doesn't, you can end up like Kevin Escoffier whose boat broke right in half.
You were involved in his rescue operation. Had you ever experienced anything like that before?
No, never. This was the first time. And it was a really unsettling experience because I was confronted with how big and how fierce the ocean truly is. It's not easy to understand what actually happened. If the mast breaks, it's pretty much because you sailed too hard. But it's very, very uncommon for a boat to just break apart.
How well did you know your boat, the Seaexplorer? Did you feel confident and secure sailing it?
I knew every screw and every sail thread. I had already sailed the boat for a really long time beforehand, for a total distance greater than that of the Vendée Globe. I've crossed the Atlantic ten times, once even with Greta Thunberg.
In the race, you have to sail the entire route alone, without advice from your team. What's it like when you meet your competitors along the way?
If you're within sight, then you do talk to each other via VHF radio. And, all our cell phones are connected to a satellite via the onboard WLAN, so we connected using WhatsApp. Almost all the skippers were part of a WhatsApp group, except for the top favorites, and everyone texted something or posted a joke.
Still, most of the time you had no one to talk to. Did it help to capture the experience on your phone?
Absolutely. I always felt a bit refreshed afterwards. You make a few attempts at recording something; it doesn't cost anything, and if what you say comes across as too grumpy, then you try again in a nicer way. And you smile. You essentially force yourself to be a little more positive, and that provides a better mindset for the rest of the day.
Did you discover new facets of yourself during these 80 days at sea?
When you get into a situation like this and have no other options, you discover how much strength your body and mind can still mobilize and that you can push your limits so much farther. That is an exciting experience—that you can sleep so interruptedly for weeks and months, with never more than two hours at a time, and that you can be so constantly physically active. You simply have to do everything yourself. It's incredibly fascinating and never gets boring.
Your team is in the process of building a new boat for the next Vendée Globe. Do you think it will give you a better chance of winning?
The funny thing is that, at the moment, many of the top participants in the last Vendée Globe are building new boats! Postponing the competition for four years raised it to a higher level, so we're all starting from scratch. To finish fifth again would be a huge success.
Thank you very much for the interview!
We'll keep our fingers crossed for the next race!
The VENDÈE GLOBE
is a nonstop single-handed regatta. It is considered the toughest sailing race in the world. Both start and finish are in France. The route leads through the Roaring Forties along the Southern Ocean once around the globe. There is a wide protection zone around Antarctica and the icebergs floating near its coastline, where skippers are not allowed to sail.
took part in the Mini-Transat at the age of 18. The solo transatlantic race was his "gateway drug" into the world of sailing. He studied economics in Bremen and sailed successfully for various teams. He is currently the skipper of Team Malizia, which he founded in 2016 with Pierre Casiraghi. In 2019, he was able to provide climate-neutral transportation for Greta Thunberg to cross the Atlantic and attend the UN Climate Summit in New York.