Saturday, 18 June 2011

VOR : Interview with Team Sanya, China, Skipper Mike Sanderson

Team Sanya Skipper Mike Sanderson. Image copyright Team Sanya.

by Volvo Ocean Race media

Sailing star and past winner of the Volvo Ocean Race Mike Sanderson will helm the new Chinese entry Team Sanya.

China launched its first ever sole entry in the Volvo Ocean Race today and announced that twice Volvo Ocean Race winner Mike Sanderson from New Zealand, would helm its Team Sanya. Team Sanya Mike Sanderson at the helm of ABN AMRO ONE in the Volvo Ocean Race 2005-6 Volvo Ocean Race

"I’m realistic about what we can achieve this time, but whether this time or next, I still have the same dream."

One of the world’s leading sailors, New Zealander Mike Sanderson is coming back to a race he excels at. He has won it twice, including an emphatic victory as skipper in 2006 with ABN AMRO ONE.

The ISAF Rolex World Sailor of the Year 2006 has also been involved in three America’s Cup campaigns and won with Team New Zealand in 2000.

At 40, Sanderson will now tackle a new challenge: leading the first sole Chinese entry to the Volvo Ocean Race.

Mike, what are Team Sanya and your objectives?

The objective is that China is seen as an ocean-racing nation. When I was asked if I was prepared to do this, I obviously had to look at the big picture, and decide what the challenges were. And the challenge for me is doing better with a team of people nobody else thought could do it.

This is about developing awareness in China, and for the Chinese to get the wave of momentum behind the Volvo Ocean Race.

I am not held back when I speak to people: it’s also in the hope that this is a stepping stone for another campaign in the next race, with a rotation of Chinese sailors onboard and on the shore crew to grow the sailing culture amongst the Chinese.

A careful budget fits the objectives we have for his race; it’s all about dipping the nation’s toe in water. We will be trying to overachieve in this one and hope to encourage bigger things in the generations to come.

How many Chinese people will sail on each leg?

The idea is to rotate between the Chinese sailors.

We would love to think we could get four, but we would always have at least one.
The plan would be to have three or four on the sailing team, and for one or two to be onboard at a time.

It will not be the MCM because we need the Chinese sailors in front of the camera and not behind. I am very aware that to get the Chinese to follow us, we need the Chinese sailors in front of the camera.

We are trying to come up with a group of people with enough experience to be safe and good learners at the same time.

Which boat will it be?

I wish I could say! We are still in the process and it has been an interesting debate. We looked at every boat that was in the race last time.

We thought Ericsson 4 was our target, but then we quickly had to see what we wanted to achieve out of this race. One of the options was getting the winner from the last race and as many points as possible. And the other one was getting a boat that could get us onto the podium in all conditions.

We are in the process of looking at all of the boats and there’s one that’s a candidate. We will announce it in about ten days.

Who is in the line-up?

It’s still very early from a crew selection point of view. We try to keep it under the radar as much as possible.

Hiring 10 sailors would have been giveaway!

We need a good mix of experienced, under-30 and Chinese sailors. And we are very likely to have an Irishman onboard.

It’s very early but we have a short list now and everybody would be fantastic, but it’s a matter of making it all work and ticking the right boxes.

And we are looking forward to the Galway stopover, hopefully it will be as welcoming as it was with Green Dragon.

Is the campaign for one or two editions?

It’s a good question. I am always very wary about teams announcing two before they have even done one. But I think this is genuinely a campaign with far higher aspirations than what time is going to allow us to achieve.

We are unable to build a new boat for this time and we have been careful with the budget to make sure we shoot for what is achievable and make sure it will happen.

This campaign is about over-delivering.

The plan is to work on version one and then version two, but right now the focus is 100% on this campaign.

For someone who has won two races, what qualities do you think are needed for a winning crew?

The Volvo Ocean Race is a people race. I always say that fast people make fast boats.

I think back to ABN AMRO, where we were lucky enough to win. The team created a boat and sailed it the way it was intended.

The Volvo Ocean Race has always been about people and there is no doubt that this next race will be all about people.

I’m sure that if you lined up all the Volvo Ocean Race sailors, you would never see an upset one.

It’s about getting a group people that want to work together and share the same goal of holding trophy above their heads.

I’m realistic about what we can achieve this time, but whether this time or next, I still have the same dream.

How competitive do you think an old boat can be?

We have to be very careful with modifications to the boat to maintain its grandfather status. But we have a bulb weight advantage and keel weight advantage.

A few things we have thought are: Ericsson 4 was fast at the start, il mostro was fast upwind and Telefónica was fast in light wind.

We have to work with weather models to see what are ideal characteristics.

The five new boats have to be angled to be good at high speed. With the sails restriction this time, you could put yourself in a corner.

This next Volvo Ocean Race is going to be the most competitive one we’ve ever seen. Looking at all the teams, it’s very hard to make differences between the boats so we may have to position ourselves slightly differently for this campaign.

But we will be there to pounce when other teams are having a bad leg. When I was asked if we could be compared to a small F1 team which gets out the way of the bigger teams, I replied this will not be happening!

Will you be getting the top boys from ABN AMRO? How easy is it to get people to join?

The timing is good in the sailing world. There are a lot more America’s Cup sailors around now.

The Volvo Ocean Race sailors are getting older, but the guys from ABN AMRO and illbruck are still in the game, so the pool to pick from is getting bigger. I’ve been blown away by how many people there are to choose from.

At least five or six fast helmsmen from ABN AMRO could do it again. A fast helmsman would do a lot for the race.

I am very pleased to see who is available and keen to do the Volvo Ocean Race.

When do you plan coming to Europe?

If we get it all together in time, we would like to do the Fastnet. The south coast of England would be a good base so we can be ready to enter the race.

But we haven’t even asked if this possible yet, it’s too early in timing. First comes buying the boat and the refit. It would be great to have the boat even a week before and get out there.

Volvo Ocean Race