Ericsson 3 sees its effort rewarded with a win on the big one to Rio. Skipper Magnus Olsson talks to Matthew about an eventful leg
Considering that the Ericsson team had the advantage of two boats, precision planning, time and a decent budget, you could argue that E3 has made surprisingly heavy weather of this event since the start.
The issue of the illegal keel fin knocked them back before they had started, handicapping them with penalty points before they had reached the first stopover. By Singapore a knee problem forced their skipper Anders Lewander to be replaced by six times Volvo/Whitbread veteran and watch captain Magnus Olsson on the leg to Qingdao. But when it came to plans for the next leg to Rio, Lewander learned that despite having presided over three podium positions, the skipper’s slot would remain with Olsson.
By Qingdao the team had also lost key player and watch leader Richard Mason due to a serious back injury. For a team made largely of Volvo rookies, stability and solid experience was surely what such a crew required, yet compared to their team mates on Ericsson 4, who even now are yet to make a single crew change, the reality for the Nordic team was quite different.
Then came the killer blow. Serious structural damage to the bow section forced the suspension of racing as the team ran for cover in Taiwan. Despite some hairy moments E3 made it safely but was still not out of the woods. A 20 hour ship to another, more suitable part of the island was necessary to effect repairs adding further complication. Even then, problems with the remedial work meant that another day was added to the programme, a day that the team could ill afford.
The team had already missed the in port race in Qingdao but there was a chance that they could just make the start of the next leg. Missing this would mean losing out on points from two scoring gates and a finish and cost them dearly.
“As far as I was concerned we were always going to compete in leg 5,” said skipper Magnus Olsson. “Even if we had to start several days late.”
In the event the team crossed the start line seven hours behind their team mates on E4 after a 2 hour pit stop to take on more supplies. So tight was time that the crew didn’t even leave the pontoon. By the first scoring gate E3 was second. Shortly after that a bold call by navigator Aksel Magdahl saw the team split from the fleet and take a more radical route to Cape Horn, staying north to ride a developing depression, cutting the corner on the route to the notorious headland and turning point.
The move was a bold one, not just because of the separation from the fleet, but more because of the heavy upwind conditions that threatened to risk their newly repaired boat.
“One of the things that really helped us was appointing Jens Dolmer to spend all his time monitoring the structural state of the boat. We even took him out of the watch system,” continued Olsson.
“We trust him completely and his confidence in the boat’s integrity gave us the confidence to push hard when we needed to.”
While they did so and the results of the tactical gamble started to bear fruit, the boat was in fact starting to show signs of a worrying problem.
“As we went further down the leg we became more aware of some play in the pin connection of the keel,” said Olsson. “Between the keel pin and the bearing there was a play of around 5-6mm and the joint became very sloppy. The boat started to feel awful and by the time we had reached Cape Horn we were concerned that we would not be able to take another big low pressure.”
In the event and for the next 2,300 miles to the finish, conditions were kind to them and E3 was nursed across the finish line in one piece.
When it came to the state of the boat, while E3 looked in pretty good shape, there was another technical issue on Olsson’s mind – the mainsail.
Telefonica Blue had split it’s main badly just as the team approached the Southern Ocean. While E3’s looked OK outwardly, Olsson revealed that this sail could turn out to be an issue for them and others in the fleet during the rest of the race.
“I think mainsails are going to be a very big issue by the end of the race. Ours was a new mainsail that has already delaminated in quite a few places and this sail has to last for the next leg and the race across the Atlantic,” he said. “Our idea is to get some liquid glue in between the layers to repair the lamination.
“Then we have an in-port mainsail that we hope will last for the three short legs at the end. But this delamination is crazy.”
So what of his team? How had he managed to bring together a team of relatively inexperienced sailors to take victory on the longest leg after having started firmly on the back foot?
“For a start, Nordic people prefer to be the underdogs,” he said with a smile. “We don’t really like the pressure of expectation.
“But the way I work is that I give people a lot of room to develop themselves. I think that’s the key. These are very talented sailors, but they have used the opportunity to develop without being told by a strong skipper what to do at every step. They have found out for themselves how the boat likes to be sailed.
“AS far as my change in responsibility is concerned, and this might sound crazy, but I want to be liked and that’s not such a good position for a skipper, especially when you have to make hard decisions. But this time on this leg I really enjoyed the leg.”
It showed. Even after almost 50 days at sea, Olsson remained the effervescent character that has made him one of the most famous sailors in this event.
Impressive for a 60 year old. Did his age mean anything?
“It’s a number. Just a number and is divisible by three!”