As you read this sentence, German yachtsman and Team Malizia co-founder Boris Herrmann will have traversed hundreds of meters through Southern Ocean waters on his Seaexplorer yacht, part of a journey he began on November 8, 2020.
That is when Herrmann set off to compete in one of the toughest solo, non-stop sailing races in the world — the Vendee Globe.
Starting and finishing in Les Sables d’Olonne, France, Herrmann will spend over 75 days at sea, traveling down the Atlantic Ocean toward the Cape of Good Hope, then around Antarctica with Cape Leeuwin and Cape Horn on the port side, before heading back to France.
He is just over halfway there.
“The race is going well, and I am about where I had hoped to be at this stage,” Herrmann told Arab News. “As this is my first time competing in the Vendee Globe race, I think it is easy to underestimate the challenge of being alone for so long.”
Founded in 1989 by Philippe Jeantot, the event, which takes place once every four years, is considered by many to be the pinnacle of yacht races.
“I have sailed around the world three times now but never alone, and this is definitely a challenge,” Herrmann added. “The weather conditions have also been particularly challenging this year, with big storms early on in the race. Now in the Southern Ocean, we are racing in similarly hard conditions with large waves and strong winds. Seaexplorer is running very well though. All the hard work from the team this year has paid off, and the boat is in very good condition.”
Herrmann’s boat, the Seaexplorer – Yacht Club De Monaco, is the product of a partnership with global transport and logistics company Kuehne + Nagel, which under the UN Sustainable Development Goals slogan of “A Race We Must Win,” aims to create carbon-neutral shipping.
This is no ordinary race. It is a journey that will take Herrmann on a lap around Antarctica, where he can expect huge storms, prematurely melting ice caps and invasions of seaweed. He will experience and witness climate change firsthand and communicate this to the world.
In partnership with the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO and the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology, Herrmann has installed an “ocean laboratory” on board the Seaexplorer, an automated machine that pumps water through a system that reads the carbon dioxide, PH levels and salinity of the ocean surface. The data is then live-streamed to ocean scientists who analyze it and make it available worldwide.
“This data is incredibly important and rare,” Herrmann said. “There was no data from the Southern Ocean regions where I sail, and now thanks to this machine and this race our scientists will be able to better understand the impact of climate change on our oceans. The fact that every second breath we take comes from the ocean and that the ocean is the biggest store of man-made carbon dioxide goes some way to show why it is so important that we protect it.”
Being alone at sea for long periods of time takes a special type of mental fortitude, and Herrmann has called it the hardest challenge of his life.
“Being alone for so long is definitely difficult, but I am lucky today to have modern technology and connectivity so I can keep in touch with friends, family and my team,” he said. “My wife and I had a baby a few months before I left for this race, and now I can video call to see them, which helps a lot. Also, the team and supporters really help to keep me motivated with messages and voice notes.”
Herrmann says he is particularly interested to learn about sailing in the Middle East, something he hopes to experience in the coming years.
“Unfortunately, I haven’t had the chance to sail in the Middle East yet, but I have friends who have done so, and I would love to in the future,” he said. “I understand that the sea has always played a critical role in the region, from pearl diving to trading, so it would be great to experience some of the ancient routes. I am fascinated to learn about the new waterfront developments planned across the Red Sea, so I hope sailing regattas will be considered there to shed light on some of these areas and to develop the sport of sailing even further.”
Gulf countries are playing an increasingly significant role in global sporting events, and Herrmann believes this could benefit sailing in the future.
“Hosting events in a country will provide a great opportunity to grow the sport on a grassroots level and of course educate the younger generation to respect and take care of the sea,” he said. “The Middle East provides good sailing conditions for most of the year, which is ideal both for people in competitive sailing and sailing amateurs. Oman has had a long-standing commitment to sailing, as has the UAE, so we look forward to following those developments to see if they can continue further in Saudi Arabia.”
Beyond Vendee Globe, Herrmann and Team Malizia will pump up their efforts to help protect the oceans and spread awareness about sustainability.
“Everyone has their own Ocean Challenge, but our mission is to continue to promote ocean science, protection and education around the world while inspiring the next generation with sailing adventures,” he said. “We have a full four-year plan for the Ocean Race now starting in 2022 and also a full four-year plan for the International Monohull Open Class Association with the option for the team to compete in the Vendee Globe 2024.”
Alongside partner and co-founder Pierre Casirgahi, Herrmann will continue to work closely with a select number of partners who share their sustainability mission. He will also expand his education program #MyOceanChallenge, which aims to inspire children to take up sailing and protect the oceans.
Herrmann will also take part in the “Sports for Climate Action” initiative established by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.
“The initiative invites sports organizations to make their own contributions against climate change for a cleaner and safer planet and hence to accept the responsibility of the sports sector for climate neutrality,” said Herrmann. “The Malizia Ocean Challenge campaign has already been collecting scientific data about the oceans’ carbon dioxide concentration and has been sensitizing school children for marine as well as climate protection.
“I believe that through collective action and courageous leadership, sports has the power to change things quickly and sustainably.”