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10 Questions for Boris Herrmann

Boris Herrmann is Germany’s most decorated sailor. But it was his recent performance at the Vendee Globe that finished in February and other sailing exploits over the past few years have launched him into an even bigger global spotlight as both a sailor and advocate for a healthy planet and protecting our oceans. We caught up with Boris in March, one month after he finished fifth in his first Vendee Globe.

Q: What an accomplishment to finish in the Top 5 of your first Vendee Globe. Now that you have had some time since the finish to reflect, how do summarize the overall race and your finish?

I’m slowly getting back into the routine of being back on dry land. There are so many moments and experiences to process from the race now. It was such an incredible experience to have finished this race and an extra bonus to finish in the top 5.

I sailed a conservative race, and my priority was always to protect the boat and keep it in the best shape possible. It definitely helped me towards the finish when things started to get close, since my boat was still in very good shape. Of course, at the end there was the incident with the fishing boat, but I am just happy that I still finished and that I was able to react with the help of my team to secure the boat and finish the race. That is really what the Vendee is about, never giving up.

Q: What is your other biggest memory from the Vendee Race going back to the start? Was it what you expected?

There are so many moments from the race that stick in my mind. One where I felt very uplifted and that was quite a special moment was when 5 of us ended up very close together in the middle of the Southern Ocean. Due to the weather situation, I was within a mile of 4 of my competitors and could see each of them on their boats, with Damien [Seguin] I was meters away. This was an incredible and surreal moment and quite bizarre having not seen anyone else for a long time. But also, I would not have expected the non-foiling boats to still be so close to the front of the fleet. This was really an exceptional race and so closely fought all the way, I think none of us expected to be drag racing to the finish.

Q: 80 days is a long time to be alone on a boat, how did you motivate yourself to keep going? It must have been difficult at times?

The race overall was very tough mentally. Being at sea completely alone for 80 days was a lot harder than I could have imagined. When you prepare for a race like this you are so busy getting ready you can sometimes overlook the importance of preparing your mental state too. I was lucky to have the great support of my wife Birte and our wider team and this really motivated me to keep going and to preserve when things were hard. The loneliness on this type of journey should not be underestimated.

Q: Can you tell us a bit more about the finish and what it was like to cross the line and achieve your dream? 

It was such an amazing feeling to be reunited with my family and team after crossing the finish line. Seeing their faces for the first time was really amazing. I saw these little boats heading towards me through the choppy sea and it suddenly was this overwhelming feeling of being home and having made it. After all that time away, I really appreciated that moment to see them again in person.

But also, all the time, dedication and work to get to the finish over the past 4 years and the 20 or so years of dreaming of this race and you reach the finish line. You realize all that hard work and dedication was all worth it – we finally made it, so there was definitely some relief too.

Q: In Solo sailing, you are obviously heavily reliant on your equipment; can you tell us about some of those that you relied on heavily during those 3 months of racing?

Of course, after the boat itself and the sails, the most important piece of technical equipment on my boat was my B&G Autopilot. I had this switched on steering the boat for 99% of the race and not once did I have a problem or fault with it. It really helped me to focus on the many other important aspects of the race and I felt one hundred percent confident in its ability. The level of accuracy that we are achieving with these devices now is really impressive.

The other equipment I relied on a lot was the B&G Radar and my B&G Zeus screen. The radar helped me to feel more secure while taking rests.

Q: As an ambassador for our oceans and protecting our planet, can you tell us more about what has driven you to take action and share your cause?

It is simply the fact that the biggest issue facing our world at the moment is climate change and we are the last generation that can protect our planet and preserve it – the time to act is NOW. Everyone must fight to protect our planet, no matter who they are and what they do. The same goes for our Team. This is something I am truly passionate about and for me it is a really exciting time where all of us need to unite whether you are companies, individuals or policy makers to act to reduce our global footprint, it isn’t about being perfect, but it is about actively trying.  

Q: What do you think are some of the most important thing individuals and sailors can do to be more gentle on our planet, to live more sustainably?

To calculate your individual carbon footprint and that of your businesses. This will help you to understand your true impact on the climate and to help you subconsciously become more aware of the choices you make in everyday life that affect greenhouse gas emissions. You can start with small things and to influence those around you to make small but significant changes. Being sustainable should be fun and it should become part of our everyday life.

Q: In 2019, you sailed Greta Thunberg from Europe to the U.S. so she could avoid flying. What are some of the conversations you had on that sailing trip about how special our earth’s ocean is?

Greta is an incredibly inspiring person and we had many interesting debates on the boat around climate change, politics and what can be done. Ultimately, I respected her a lot and her mission to highlight how challenging it currently is to travel without using any fossil fuels. We cannot all be like Greta and not travel using fossil fuels at all, but her cause and mission has really raised the profile of the climate issue around the world.

Q: What’s next for Boris Herrmann in terms of competitive sailing, can you give us a hint?

We have a 5-year racing campaign planned to take us to the end of the next Vendee Globe. We are looking at options as to what boat to use for these races at the moment with the possibility of a new build. We are keen to compete in the Ocean Race and the next Vendee Globe.

Q: And back at home? What do you do to relax after 3 difficult months of solo sailing at sea?

At the moment my main priorities are my family and our partners. Being at home and spending time with them but also planning for the future.  What relaxes me a lot if walking my dog Lili actually, I put some music on and I go for a walk in my neighborhood. I am looking forward to kite foiling again, it is great fun and a great way to relax.