Volvo Ocean Race Sailors in the ARC (Again!)

Vaquita mid-Atlantic in 2011

Last year I wrote about how the ARC attracts professional sailors. I highlighted two in particular, Volvo Ocean Race skipper of Team Russia and two-time Olympic sailor in the Star class Andreas Hanakamp, and ocean racing legend Magnus Olsson.

Unsurprisingly, the boats that they sailed on fared particularly well in 2011 - Andreas was navigator aboard the Class 40Vaquita, which took it's class in the racing division. Magnus sailed as crew aboard the Baltic 60 Triumph with a crew of amateurs. They won the Invitation Cruising Division, and would have won the Overall Cruising had the big boats been allowed to compete for it (they aren't).

Both are back this year, sailing on the same boats.

Personally, the idea that a family-owned cruising boat can sail (and indeed compete) alongside some of the biggest names in the ocean racing game is beyond cool. And not only sail, but socialize. Perhaps the biggest part of the ARC is the programme surrounding it, both before the start in Las Palmas and at the finish in St. Lucia (as I write, the rest of the Yellow Shirt team is preparing the results for tomorrow night's prize giving ceremony, the biggest party all week). In any other sport, you'd be well and thoroughly cordoned off from the professionals. Here, you're (literally, in some cases) on board with them.

What Magnus and Andreas are doing in the ARC - beyond the competition that is - makes it even more special to have them around.

This is the third straight year that Andreas Hanakamp has been navigator aboard Christof Petter's Akalaria 40Vaquita (in 2012 the boat was calledWesailforthewhale). 

“For a lot of people, an Atlantic crossing is the Mount Everest of sailing,” Andreas went on. “There are a lot of ‘traps’ sailing across an ocean or competing in a big regatta, and I try to spot them and avoid them.”

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Team Russia in the 2008/09 Volvo

Andreas is a natural sailor and leader, having grown up on the lakes in Austria sailing windsurfers before anyone in the country even knew what they were. He was only ten years old at the time, and was too small to even handle the heavy rigs, but he knew then and there that it was his destiny to be on the water.

"I got basically infected with all kind of sailing sports," he said. "First it was windsurfing when a friend of mine had one of the very first windsurfers in Austria. It just jumped on me. I knew that is what I wanted to do."

His passion led to him at one point as a teenager, sleeping on the beach in the Canaries just so he could be closer to the surf. 

"It was not about fun," he said. "It was destiny. It was my life. I remember having an atlas," Andreas continued, "and sitting in these boring geography classes at the age of 14. And instead of listening, I was drawing routes around the world on my atlas! And trying to design and draw boats."

Andreas capitalized on his passion, getting involved in the professional sailing world whenever he could, and dreaming of one day sailing in the Whitbread Round the World race. At the time, in the early 90s, he and a group of investors from Austria had actually raised enough money to participate in a race meeting in the UK. Some of his own idols were there.

"First Peter Blake walked into the room," Andreas said, " and of course Magnus (Olsson). And me and my little group is in the corner trying to drum up the nerve to talk to them. I lost the coin flip and had to talk to Peter Blake. He just said, 'can you sail a Laser?' And I said 'of course I can!' And he said, 'well, then you can sail around the world."

It took Andreas a decade-and-a-half to realize that dream aboardTeam Russia in the 2008/09 race, after it had become the Volvo Ocean Race, but the setbacks didn't dissuade him from his life's work. He sailed in two Olympics in the Star class, helped manage the media in the 2001 Volvo and ticked off a lot of his life's goals along the way.

Andreas takes the competition of the ARC very seriously, and it paid off this year. Vaquita took line honors by nearly a full day over the 80-foot Swan Berenice, and again won her class in the Racing Division. The 12-day crossing was just shy of the course record, set by a 100-foot Maxi in 2006, a remarkable feat for a 40-foot boat. 

And he had some help. 4th-place finisher at the London Olympics in the 49er class and fellow Austrian Nico Delle Karth was aboard Vaquita for the crossing, yet another top pro along for the ARC. And while the team on Vaquita is serious about racing, it's their philosophy towards success that sets them apart.

"It's not about winning," Andreas stresses. "It's about racing and sailing well. And winning is the reward for that. But you shouldn't go out there to win, and be desperate. Of course, if you're a serious racing sailor you have a winning attitude. You do it in a way you are able to win, but you're not constantly thinking about it. You're thinking about racing well. And you want good competition, and you want other boats giving you a very hard time because it adds a lot to the excitement."

Andreas is talking about living in the moment, enjoying the process rather than the result. And it's that same philosophy that contributes to his other projects surrounding the racing campaign. The boat's name, for example is Vaquita, which is a certain type of endangered whale found only in Baja California in the Pacific, and came about thanks to their partnership with the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, a partnership that started with the Volvo campaign. It's part of how he and his team partner with good-for-the-world causes in an effort to give back the local communities where they sail. 

"I use dolphins a lot on board," he continued, with a slight smirk on his face. "If I want to make a sail change, it's much more efficient if I call 'Hey, dolphins around!' and everyone's coming up on deck, and I say 'Oh, sorry, they're gone. But by the way, since you're up we're going to change for the bigger spinnaker!' So it's fantastic for me!" he joked.

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Vaquita with the local kids in St. Lucia. Photo by Kieran Higgs.

In all seriousness, he continued, "Whales and dolphins are the top of the food chain, and if you want to protect those, you have to protect the whole ocean environment underneath in the food chain."

And after taking line honors in this year's ARC, Andreas took that same attitude about contributing to the local community and offered to take some local kids out sailing on Vaquita.

"It was a dream for them," he said. "You could just see them taking control. Steering the boat, hoisting the sails. We blasted off at 15 knots, and St. Lucia was a speck on the horizon in no time. That's so important, to give back to the local community," he continued, "because that way you're creating a relationship with them, and they'll have a reason to want to invite you back."

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For the second straight year, Magnus sailed with a group of amateur sailors from Sweden who hired him andTriumph for the crossing. While Magnus is accustomed to blasting around the world in the southern ocean, he's paying a different role in the ARC.

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Magnus as skipper of Ericsson 3 in the 2008/09 Volvo

“My ambition was to teach them a little bit more about ocean racing, ocean sailing,” Magnus said last year. They got that in spades this year.Triumph likely won't fare as well this year at tomorrow's prize giving thanks to a host of gear failures, but that doesn't seem to have dampened the spirits of the crew.

"Before the start of the race," skipper and owner Börje Torresson began, "Magnus was up the rig to find what was wrong with the genoa," he said, noting that it only unfurled about 2 or 3 meters before getting stuck. And this as they are literally sailing towards the starting line in Las Palmas. "Magnus was up there cutting off a part of the curler, during the starting line," he continued. They lost two spinnakers and the mainsail boom en route as well.

Because in the ARC, winning isn't everything. For Magnus, that's most definitely a departure in the way he thinks about ocean sailing, but it's a different style of play here. Success is measured instead, for the vast majority of the fleet anyway, in how much fun you had out there, how much you learned, how much you got - personally, spiritually -  out of the experience.

"The crew had the adventure of a lifetime," said Börje. "They loved it."

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The crew of Triumph on arrival in St. Lucia

So for the pros that enter the ARC - Andreas and Magnus are but two of the most visible examples (there were more) - it's that unique combination of legitimate competition and inspiring atmosphere surrounding the event that drives them to come back year after year. In the sailing world, there's nothing quite like it.