Germany’s Boris Herrmann announced last week that he is well down the road with the commissioning of a new VPLP IMOCA design on which he will compete in the crewed race round the world The Ocean Race before taking on the Vendée Globe for a second time in 2024, looking to improve on his fifth place on the recently finished ninth edition. Herrmann’s race was exemplary and he was absolutely in the match to win, or at least finish on the podium, during the final 24 hours of the race. Desperately unlucky to hit a fishing boat in the final hours, Herrmann did not let the accident mar his enjoyment of the finish, nor the satisfaction of a job well done. As the first German sailor ever to compete on the Vendée Globe his race was followed with passion. He is now something of a major celebrity in his native country, recognised in the street. And the huge profile of his race has helped in his quest to re-sign his partners and find additional support. Here’s Boris……..
You have become quite famous at home in Germany after the Vendée Globe, what was it like coming home and what is it like now?
It is so positive. German Media and German people really loved to follow the Vendée Globe. There is quite a good following and it was all new to them and a lot of people discovered sailing can be an exciting adventure which is good to follow. But it is interesting I did all my communications in English, despite that I got a very big following in Germany and that is quite cool. I remember in the past German media were saying ‘if you don’t do stuff in German we can’t broadcast it. But the bigger broadcasters just broadcast it with subtitles. That made it good for my multi-cultural programme with Monaco, France, Germany and internationally. But now when I walk through the streets people give me thumbs up all the time, they wish me good luck for the future. It is so positive. Funnily enough it is very much men of my age. They want to say hi, sporty men of my age….they maybe can imagine themselves doing their own big adventure some day.
But you were on all the major TV channels in Germany through the race…..
Yes, like the ZDF and so on, every Sunday prime time they were broadcasting, normally they would do soccer then add 10 minutes of me on the Vendée Globe, in the end it was half an hour or an hour programmes, displacing some soccer. A few weeks after the finish there was a full one hour documentary. In the beginning they just planned to do some streaming on line. I was a real phenomena, a real media phenomena….
Which helps when you look to quickly re-sign your sponsors and find more….
Yes. It has total changed. We call people and don’t need to explain at all. They had followed it quite closely. They knew about the Vendée Globe and so it was so much easier to talk about a future together.
What was the strangest request you had as a ‘celebrity’?
The strangest thing was maybe someone asking me to come and sail on their little boat on their own lake. There were some strange messages, but so, so many positive messages. And lots and lots of presents to all the different addresses, like the German Sailing Federation, to my yacht club, to the Vendée, to Lorient, to my office as per the address on the web site. And so we got so many presents it was really lovely and touching. There were kids making paper boats and sending them in big cardboard boxes, a mayor sent all the different wines from his region, some special ham from another region. It took me two days to only go through the parcels in the office! It is completely crazy.
How do you feel about being the centre of such attention?
It is cool, a real euphoria, a positive vibe around the project and I am pleased about the way I was received by the public and the way I communicated. I set out to be, and I think I was personal, open and honest and that went well. It is great now to have a project for five years. But there is some pressure. Building a new boat so quickly after the Vendée Globe to be ready for The Ocean Race you have to find a little breather. At the same time these coming four weeks are where we will decide 80 per cent of the design. I am quite under pressure still.
Boris like other skippers who have re-signed their sponsors and stepped up their program for the next race, you have been non-stop since your race ended. Has it not been hard to keep up the momentum?
“Well as you know we have a new boat commissioned and the design of the boat is going on full chat right now and so I am following that quite closely, so I have had no proper ‘off line’ holiday. But I will take a week soon but will still do a bit every day.”
When did you actually know you would have a new boat for the next race?
There was a question of strategy, ‘do we want to build a new boat quickly and sell the existing boat quickly or do we want try to charter and keep the existing boat longer and take more time for the new boat, so it was a question of timing. The idea of having a new boat to carry on and have a new boat was not a recent idea. And then it is between the partners and choosing the strategy. MY strategy was saying we want to do four or five years more, so rather than thinking about how to make the boat better and buy a lot of things to do that and then still worry about putting too many miles on the boat – especially doing The Ocean Race and the next Vendée Globe – in that case let us push the button and build new. If we do these two races round the world the difference in total budget is not that much. You also spend a lot of money keeping the old boat and doing all the activities, if we do such consecutive events, then we would rather do it with a new boat and step up our game.
What is your ballpark budget?
We have to keep it confidential but we have a good budget like the other good teams, like the top teams, like I would say have a top IMOCA budget and include The Ocean Race in that budget, not every year has the same costs and so The Ocean Race is the most expensive year but we even that over the five year programme it becomes much more manageable, if you look at it over the whole period. To build new and only do The Ocean Race is two expensive years, over five years it is much closer to a normal top IMOCA budget, ‘normal’ is a strange word when you talk IMOCA budgets!
Your mental and physical recovery after the race, did you do anything specific to help your recovery or was it largely organic?
I would like to do these things. I feel like I have been ‘fleeing forwards’ as we say in Germany. Ten days after the race I was just soaking in the impressions and not immediately deciding what to do. Then I stopped all interviews because we needed to deal with the future. That same day Jean Pierre Dick called me because he wanted to rent me his hangar. I asked him ‘Jean Pierre, four Vendée Globes how did you recover each time?’ he said ‘Don’t worry about recovering just secure your future and that may take up to May and then after that you can speak with all your mental coaches and whatever you like but first get your contracts signed. I thought ‘this sounds so logical, this man knows what he is talking about, it is very clear. And so I said ‘let’s do it exactly as Jean Pierre said, let’s have a timeline, let us put a bit of pressure on and we secure the next cycle and then after that we have a bit of time to relax.
How is your business or operation expanded since the finish of the race?
It has not immediately expanded since the finish. It is taking a bit of time. First it was just Ryan Breymaier and myself on the design side and then with Will Harris and just Holly (Cova, team manager) on the sponsorship side. In the last three or four weeks we have three extra people on the design side and two are joining the office side. You cannot just hire 10 or 15 people at once it has to grow organically. If we have too many people the management becomes difficult and you are spending too much time managing. In a small ‘commando’ group we all talk to each other all the time. That is how we will stay for the next few weeks while we design the boat with VPLP. We have two experienced guys from the Sodebo and Groupama teams, two experienced guys and a young naval architect lady.
Anything you felt you need to improve on your own sailing?
I was relatively happy with it, but I can do better. But I was very much on my own before I was involved in every aspect, the business side and everything. This campaign should allow me to more focus more closely on the sport and the Vendée Globe in particular. The physical side I am fine but it is not a game changer. The game changer is the mental side. It is in the mind. To be at ease, to be easy going is in the mind. It is so important in the Vendée Globe, little problems can become heavy in the mind if you don’t have the discipline to push them away, to stay light of heart. That is what I want to work on really with my mental coaches, training to be going through the Vendée Globe wth the least possible distractions and really not lose any energy which is not necessary. I lose so much energy worrying, ‘this could break, this or that. The crashes and damage of the others, Kevin, is it really is it going to happen to me? Worrying takes a lot of energy.
And your scow design, how close will it be to the Manuard L’Occitaine of this last race?
It is going a little in that direction but definitely with foils similar to what we had before on Malizia and also the hull shape in total will be quite different. The cockpit ideas are a bit more like Hugo Boss not exactly like Hugo Boss, but similar. But with more air and vision.
So close to Apivia and Charlie Dalin?
Yes. Something in between. Charlie’s view aft and Alex’s view forwards. Charlie had no real view forwards.
Do you want to do any other sailing, for example Malizia did the Extreme Sailing Series at one stage?
I would like to do some cruising. I will do a holiday now with my wife on a small sailboat on a Pogo 36 in Germany, someone is lending us one. And then because the IMOCA is only finished say next June, I don’t know when the La Solitaire du Figaro is early enough next year I would like to do that if it were in June and do some training starting in January to be sharp next year, to be sharp. If I don’t don’t to that I will be doing some other sport.
Your sustainability goals, what are the next objectives, your metrics?
“We carry on with ocean lab on the new boat. The education programme will continue and so we will expand the team there to work more closely on a one to one basis with some of the schools. The education books we made are translated into ten languages. And then with the partners we want to work on their projects they have in the climate education front. The shipping industry has to de-carbonise bit by bit and so they do research into different fuels. They have pilot projects which use synthetic fuels like methanol, carbon neutral fuels. We want to help understand them and make them more publicly known, what can be done and the challenges.”
Is there a new challenge to be skipper of a crew on board on The Ocean Race?
“No, not at all. I don’t think so. On an IMOCA programme you are doing that anyway. I have done a lot of Transatlantic deliveries with five people, you run your team anyway and trust people to do their jobs. Also I have sailed a lot in crews before, on Giovanni Soldini’s boat as navigator, with Frances Joyon, with Jochen Schümann on the TP52, and all that and I really enjoy that. With four people on an IMOCA that is not fully crewed. Someone is always sleeping. It is shorthanded. You are three and two are sailing and one is at the computer. I see it like you have four solo skippers working all together on the one boat. You won’t have a bowman a trimmer and helm, you will have four IMOCA experts who can all input into everything.”
Have you come to terms with what happened with the fishing boat just before you finished?
“The accident is still there. I have boxed it away. I don’t think about it. I will dig it out at a later stage and see what to do about it. For now it is just something which disturbs me a little bit. Luckily the race was not over for me, the boat was repairable, no one got hurt. So the consequences are not that bad. It could have been worse. But I have to eliminate any doubt for when I sail solo next time.
La rédac du Vendée Globe / ITV by Andi Robertson