It was a special moment for Mike Sanderson after winning the 2005-06 Volvo Ocean race – afterwards he delivered one of the race’s most memorable quotes: “This is my Olympic gold, my Mount Everest, this is my childhood dream, to get to skipper a boat and win the Volvo Ocean Race,” he said.
Sanderson was 10 years old when he had his first taste of the race as a visitor to the Auckland stopover in 1981-82 in what was then The Whitbread Round the World race and his passion has never wavered.
A quarter of a century later, the New Zealander stormed to victory in the Volvo. In doing so, he became the youngest winner in the modern Volvo era after Lionel Péan, who was 29 when he skippered L’Esprit d’Equipe to victory in the 1985-86 Whitbread.
“For me, sailmaking was a road to professional sailing,” he said in an interview with the New York Times, explaining why he dropped out of school early.“Professional sailing was where I needed to be, to get on a Whitbread boat and a Whitbread boat was where I needed to be to be a Whitbread skipper.”
He made his podium debut at the age of just 22 as part of Grant Dalton’s winning New Zealand Endeavour in 1993-94 (Maxi class) Whitbread, following that up four years later with a runners-up spot on Merit Cup and in 2005-06 he returned to skipper his own campaign with ABN AMRO ONE.
It was a resounding success, with Sanderson and his team winning the first two legs and five of the first six. This was the debut of the monstrously powerful Volvo Open 70 and Sanderson had the quickest boat and the slickest crew, setting a new distance record on Leg 1 with 546 nautical miles registered in one 24-hour period on the way to Cape Town. Sanderson returned to skipper Team Sanya, the Irish-Chinese entry in the 2011-12 Volvo Ocean Race.
The boat, formerly known as Telefónica Blue in the 2008-09 race, was plagued by problems from holes in the hull to broken rigging and was forced to retire from two legs. Sanderson is also a veteran of three America's Cup campaigns and was ISAF Rolex World Sailor of the Year in 2006.