Boris Herrmann

Boris Herrmann: « Second isn’t an unlikely surprise »

Already second a month ago on The Transat CIC, Boris Herrmann confirmed his position on the New York Vendée, taking second place once again last Sunday, 17 hours after the winner, Charlie Dalin. With five months to go before the start of his second Vendée Globe, the German skipper took time out to answer Tip & Shaft’s questions.

► Did these results come as a surprise to you, or was it something you were aiming for?  
For me, it’s very difficult to aim for a podium today in the Imoca class, it’s getting more and more complicated, there are about fifteen skippers who can now claim to win, it’s a good battle every time. So I’m very happy with this result, but it’s not an unlikely surprise. We’ve put in a lot of hard work over the last few years, and we’ve got one of the best teams in the class. It’s also the team which, with Biotherm, has put the most miles on the boat over the last two years. It’s great to see that this investment is leading to such fine results.

► Can you tell us about the radical option you took on the New York-Vendée to pass to the north of the anticyclone?
Everything was a bit surprising on this return race, with a particularly blocked weather situation for 15 days. There was no flow allowing the sailors to progress eastwards. When the talweg from which Charlie Dalin and I first escaped caught up with me an hour later, I found myself stuck again. Finally, by a miracle, I got some wind again and managed to get out to the east. At that point, I was so afraid that it would catch me again that I decided to get away as quickly as possible, perpendicular to the front. I sailed for 12 hours on a course 35 degrees steeper than Charlie, maybe even more. After that, we had a lateral gap of over 100 miles, and all my routings had me going north, and even winning via this option. The alternative route of heading south-east to line up behind Charlie was risky, as the routings told me that the fleet was in a position to escape the front, so I risked losing a lot and finishing fifth or tenth. On the other hand, if I took gybes and tacks into account, the northerly route was shorter than the southeasterly one. So the safest and most logical option for me was to continue north. It wasn’t a risky intuition or an emotional choice, but a rational and scientific one.

► How did you experience this option, alone in the north? Did you ever have any doubts?
I had doubts 48 hours after putting myself in this extreme position, because the models were so unstable. My mood would change a little every 12 hours depending on the models. One minute, it would pass and I’d win, the next, I’d take another four days because the anticyclone was shifting eastwards and blocking the downwind descent. For three days, it was suspense every time I launched the routing.

“It’s a whole package at play”

► What do you think of your boat’s performance today? 
At times, when I was sailing in the pack of favorites, I myself was surprised to see my boat come out ahead after a few hours. This was the case on a downwind reach in very unstable conditions. My boat is rounder, as are the foils, and it’s so forgiving that it’s a little easier to exploit in difficult, gusty conditions. It doesn’t run, it doesn’t luff and it holds a good average speed, so it’s a pleasant surprise. It doesn’t show too much in the bay of Port-la-Forêt or on a Jacques Vabre, as it’s often quite stable in the trade winds, but much more on the real offshore conditions. That was the intention behind the design of this VPLP plan, and I have the impression that it’s working well. The new pair of foils, the ballast and weight adjustments, the work on optimizing the sails and ergonomics, it’s all part of the package.

► We knew that your VPLP design was fast downwind, but until now it seemed to have a slight deficit upwind. But over these two transatlantic races, it has done very well upwind. How do you explain this?
Yes, the boat is now very fast upwind in a breeze. We’re keeping up with the best when there’s at least 20 knots of wind. And it’s really our new foils that make this performance possible. The ones we had on The Ocean Race were bought in a bit of a hurry four weeks before the start of the race, after the initial foils broke. They weren’t optimized for Malizia and weren’t at the maximum rating, which explains why our boat was a little weak at times. For this new pair designed by Sam Manuard, we’ve kept the characteristics of the previous foils and enlarged them to the maximum rating (8 m3) to make up for the lack of performance in medium wind phases.


“A new Imoca project in the pipeline”


► After these two transatlantic races, you’re now one of the favorites for the Vendée Globe, aren’t you?
I have nothing against the term favorite, but I don’t want to put too much pressure on myself either. I also have a lot of respect for the quality of the fleet. In my opinion, the fifth place I achieved in the last Vendée Globe will be much harder to obtain this time, given the level of the top fifteen boats. The Vendée Globe remains a great adventure with a lot of uncertainties, but I obviously hope to be able to race at the front.

► What are your plans after this round-the-world race?
I’m planning to race in The Ocean Race Europe, but that should be the last race on this boat, as I’m putting her up for sale, as we’re hoping to find a buyer before the start of the Vendée Globe [see mercato, below]. In June 2025, Malizia will sail down the Mediterranean towards Monaco, giving the future buyer the opportunity to sail and train on her. In fact, we want to find a team that is looking ahead to the long term, so that we can make the best possible handover and enable her to race in the Transat Jacques Vabre.

► Will you be setting sail on a new boat? 
Yes, a new project is in the pipeline, still within the Imoca class. But I’m keeping the details to myself for now!

Photo: Jean-Louis Carli / Alea

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