Torben Grael’s sailing CV makes impressive reading. Five Olympic medals (two gold, a silver, two bronze), six world titles and a Louis Vuitton Cup. And now, victory in the Volvo Ocean Race.
The manner of his most recent triumph as skipper of Ericsson 4 was absolute. Wins in the first two legs and podiums on two of the next three before stamping his authority with further wins in three of the final four legs. There were also two waypoint and in-port race series victories and a 24-hour monohull record for good measure.
In a revealing end of term report with Volvo Ocean Race radio’s Guy Swindells, the Brazilian reflects on a job well done.
“It was very tough, the boats were very close for most of the race,” he said. “It was intense. To win you had to make the right decisions at the right time and work hard on speed of the boats the whole time.
“To come out on top in such a difficult environment, with all those leg wins is a fantastic feeling.”
Grael took over from the original skipper of the Ericsson campaign, John Kostecki. “It was not an easy decision,” he says. The America’s Cup was still a sailing event at that time and was one option. In the end it was Grael’s daughter who had the casting vote. “My daughter said ‘you’ve got to do the Volvo, it’s much better’.”
Joining an Ericsson Racing Team that was already well into the planning phase of the campaign, inheriting an existing team and fusing those sailors he chose to bring with him like Brazilians Horacio Carabelli and Joao Signorini with gnarled Kiwi veterans like Brad Jackson, Stu Bannatyne and Tony Mutter, had its challenges.
“Getting to something that was already happening was difficult,” he admits. “Although we had big cultural differences we had to make it work.
“We had good moments and bad moments. You make mistakes. The winner is the boat that makes the least number of big mistakes. We managed to do that.”
As for highlights, Grael has several. “The record on the first leg was fantastic, winning a leg and getting to the arrival harbour and having crowds waiting there to celebrate with you is nice. The experience of going to India and China was great, and going round Cape Horn is always special.
“This time we got there in 55 knots and had problems with the steering. It’s very dangerous and you run a lot of risks, you are close to the limit. It’s good once you’ve done it and survived. That’s why you do this race.”
As for 2011-12, Grael will take his time to mull over a decision. “This race is not easy,” he said. “It’s very hard on your body and very draining on your mind. But it’s fantastic sailing and it’s what brings us back.
“If it’s done properly and it’s a fun project, then it’s very likely I’ll come back.”
There was serious talk in Rio of the Brasil 1 campaign from the 2005-6 race being on the start line in 2011-12. The lure of leading the Brazilian entry might be enough of a draw for Grael.