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German skipper Boris Herrmann talks about his return to solo racing

by Retour à La Base 27 Nov 2023 21:56 PST
Boris Herrmann (GER) ready to go solo again © Jean-Louis Carli / Alea

Boris Herrmann: "In the Westerlies I am sure I have one of the best boats for sailing solo."

Coming in strong towards the end of the race, a solid seventh was a good result for Boris Herrmann and Will Harris on Malizia Seaexplorer on the Transat Jacques Vabre Normandie Le Havre. Now it is time for the popular German skipper to make his return to solo racing mode. Like some others, he sailed last year's Route du Rhum on his brand new boat very much in 'discovery' mode, and had a few technical problems. But, as he notes, his countdown to the solo Rétour à La Base has been gradual, from a crewed success round the world on The Ocean Race to double-handed Transat Jacques Vabre Normandie Le Havre, now it is solo time.

It is no secret (read his book 'Between Sky and Sea') that Herrmann had his moments of loneliness and self doubt on his Vendée Globe, despite very, very nearly finishing on the podium. Now the Boris is firmly on course for his second race and the Rétour à La Base is an essential stepping stone......

Boris, going back solo, what are your goals on this race?

"I want to feel good solo on board. It is a bit of a soft objective. I have three solo races between now and the Vendée Globe. I think I have all the ingredients now to do a nice Vendée Globe, a good team, a good boat and now more and more it is about me, my mental state and motivation and the skills too of course. I think I can develop slowly over the next three races, maybe a bit under the radar I want to do a solid race now and gain in confidence both in terms of reliability of the boat and the reliability of the skipper. And being in a good zone on board, not feeling too lonely, too emotional, feeling strong."

And so what is your approach going to be, what is your general strategy?

"I think it is very much connected to my mental state, not to put too much pressure on myself, knowing the Vendée Globe really is a different sport to these Transats. It is a long test of durability and all that. So I don't want to freak out if I am not performing right at the front of the fleet. At the same time I want to convince myself I can do well. It is a bit like the TJV we have just done, a non-stressed, very motivated race. We were close to fourth place and were not at all disappointed to finish seventh on the TJV. So that is very much the thoughts for the Rétour à La Base.

What do you want to take from it most?

"During The Ocean Race I had some small crisis moments, we had the mast damage in the Southern Ocean and I realised to have been solo would have been tough and maybe not possible to solve it. So maybe I was a bit doubtful about my courage to go again in the Vendée Globe. So I am rebuilding a bit this courage and the hunger for it. So I really want to take pleasure in this race. Technically I know how to sail the boat alone. It is about being in the right zone, pushing, having fun and taking pleasure in it and doing it."

And you feel ready now?

"The summer was a good time to find the solo hunger and during the TJV I had these long solo watches and I have been getting into it, imagining Will was not there. I enjoyed these moments and so I have had a good process to be ready to go solo again."

Being alone in your boat after intense periods with your team and with Will, do you think there will feel like there is a void?

"I am so connected to the boat now, I feel it is like my second home with so many good memories with the team, of camaraderie, I will doubtless exchange a few messages to relive some of these good moments, even being alone. And the boat is so much more comfortable with the big new 'armchair' at the nav station."

You have this huge public following now in Germany, do you feel pressure to return a podium result, say?

"I think the fans in Germany are looking forwards to seeing me sail solo again. I don't think anyone is overly excited about it. I think everyone knows this is all about training, testing, qualifying period. I am sure the pressure will be on for the Vendée Globe. But I feel we have delivered a lot for our partners in The Ocean Race and we have done something significant and that takes a lot of pressure off these Transats."

And do you think this can be a good course for Malizia Seaexplorer's strengths?

"Well I am a bit worried about the reaching at the beginning if the Trade Winds are a bit weak. If the wind is above 20kts there is no problem. We will be at about 70 deg TWA and if we don't foil, whoever does not manage to foil will be dead....If the wind is a bit light, 15-16kts, that will be hard whereas V & B and boats like that, they have their strong moment. This long period of fetching upwind can be quite determining for the race. Knowing that I think solo will even out the performances. And these Transats with so much proportion of Trade Winds sailing, they are not at all representative of the Vendée Globe. Bear that in mind."

But then hooking into a big Atlantic low must be a strength of your boat?

"I think once we are into the transition into the Westerlies, I am sure I have one of the best boats for sailing solo. It is easy to control, it never nose dives and passes over the sea very well. It is not so stressed. And the foils are very suited for solo sailing. The whole boat is a tolerant package, it lets you accept more heel, more trim the whole boat moves easily and does not fall off the foils easily. Once we are in the Westerlies."

And how about racing against Nico Lunven who was navigator with you round the world, now he has his own project with HOLCIM-PRB?

"I am very happy for him and his team, he is very focused, he is very serious which is what I expect of him. I am very happy for him getting this great project. He must be so happy. I don't hear so much from him but that hull shape is particularly strong upwind fetching. I would not be surprised if he wins the thing. He is the kind of guy who, weatherwise is one of the strongest, he has the tool to take out some miles after the start and be up there with Thomas Ruyant and Yoann Richomme, Charal upwind is a weapon... these four are my favourites."

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