A man on a mission

Text by Jon Bramley
The toughest journey of all
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A man on a mission Text by Jon Bramley
After three whirlwind Volvo Ocean Race campaigns on board Ericsson 3 in 2008-09, 2011-12 winners Groupama and 2014-15 surprise package Dongfeng Race Team, it’s a time of reflection for big Swede, Martin Strömberg.

His appetite for the race, he tells us, shows no signs of being sated but for the next edition in 2017-18 his heart is set on an entry with a ‘Swedish spirit’. But it’ll be a long haul to get there as he embarks on his latest voyage of discovery.

Martin, can you reflect for us on the race and your seven months since it finished in Gothenburg at the end of June?

I think now it’s starting to sink in a little bit. It was busy after the race and now I’m spending a bit more time in Sweden. Up there now it’s a very dark and cold so it’s time for reflection a little bit. It was a fantastic campaign, I’m very pleased with that, and now I’m looking forward to doing something similar in the future.

Did it surprise you how well you did with Dongfeng Race Team? Apart from Leg 5 in the Southern Ocean when you suffered your broken mast, the team could have competed very seriously with Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing to win the race.

We were leading the race at that stage and we had a vision in our head. We knew we were always capable of doing good things, but I don’t think we would have done as well if we hadn’t had that belief.

Did it change any preconceptions you may have had about the need to have experience on the boat? I know that you rotated your four Chinese rookies, but nevertheless, with only eight sailors on board, that meant that at any one time you had 25% of relatively untested people on board.

They were very inexperienced, especially when we started out training with them in China, but they learned a lot before the race and even more during it. But don’t forget that the young guys bring a lot of extra energy on to the boat, a lot of motivation. And that was a big factor behind our success as well. It was a good mix.

Do you think team leaders and skippers will rethink their strategy of that mix between experience and youthful enthusiasm – just as Dongfeng used – in future races?

You always want to have an experienced crew, but there is an important element of having motivation in the group and keeping that motivation for a long time. That’s a very important ingredient, for sure.

At the end of the race, was there a different feeling for you than normal? You won on Groupama in 2011-12 but how did that compare sailing into your home port of Gothenburg last June after such a - perhaps, surprisingly - successful campaign?

Of course, there were very different emotions. Winning the race is a fantastic thing and a great result after spending so much time with the race. But finishing in your home port like we did is something that not many people get to do. We achieved a lot during the two years and finished on the final podium in third. Both experiences are fantastic and two very good memories in my Volvo Ocean Race life.

So what’s next? Do you now have ambitions to skipper a team in the race yourself in the future?

That’s a dream but it’s a long way away from where we are at the moment. The next race is two years away. A dream for me would be to have a more Swedish team on the starting line, that’s my main ambition to come true next.

Would you want only Swedish sailors onboard that team?

I don’t think we need to be a fully Swedish team. I want to have a Swedish spirit on the boat and I want a campaign to build knowledge for Sweden.

So tell us what you’re up to at the moment and how 2016 is shaping up?

I have a vision of doing this race and I’d like to do it with a Swedish team, but it’s a long path to get there. It’s an interesting, different game from the sailing to get a campaign going but it’s a way of motivating yourself to do something different, gaining more experience.

How would you like to see the race develop in the future? For the next race in 2017-18, we’re sticking with the one-design Volvo Ocean 65s but after that the future is open in terms of boat design from the 2020-21 edition.

It’s a very tricky question to answer. Obviously, it’s a long time in the future. I would like the boat to keep being high-tech and I guess in three editions of the race you need to do something different after having the same boat for two. The Volvo Ocean 65 has been a great tool for this last race and I’m sure it’s going to be for the next one, but I think after two editions you need to do something different.

What would your priorities look like in a new boat? Would it be cost efficiency, as we have seen this time with a boat built for at least two races with maintenance carried out by a central Boatyard? Or would you like to see something more spectacular, maybe even foiling around the world?

My heart is always going to be tempted by the more spectacular, multihull, foiling or whatever. But there also needs to be some reason within that. The race has gone down a great path now with the one-design boat and all the aspects around the Boatyard and so on. It’s so much more cost-effective and a safer investment for a partner in the race. So that’s a very important ingredient. It’s going to be a tricky one for someone to decide.