Saturday, 27 April 2013

Volvo Ocean Race : Magnus' Happy Boat

Ericsson 3 at Cape Horn. Image copyright Gustav Morin/Ericsson 3/Volvo Ocean Race

In a tribute to Magnus Olsson, his skipper onboard Ericsson 3 in 2008-09, Aksel Magdahl describes his Swedish friend’s faith, allowing him to make a bold tactical decision which led to an unexpected and splendid victory in the leg from China to Brazil.

It was the longest leg of the Volvo Ocean Race 2008-09, and after their delayed start due to their disastrous previous leg, nobody expected the youngsters from Ericsson 3 to shine between Qingdao and Rio.

But skipper Magnus Olsson’s philosophy and navigator Aksel Magdahl’s talent made for a surprise result. After leaving China, Ericsson 3 tacked to go back northeast, avoiding a huge area of high pressure in the south. Magdahl's unconventional analysis allowed Ericsson 3 to ride a low-pressure system spinning up to the northeast.

This brilliant coup gave them a comfortable lead, which they kept over the next 6,000 miles. The triumphant arrival of the team in Rio remains one of the strongest memories of Olsson and his boys in the race.

Here, Magdahl tells us how Olsson gave the boat a “happy” feeling, giving his Norwegian navigator full confidence and allowing him to take his own decisions.

"Magnus trusted people and he liked teams to take decisions together in democracy" - Aksel Magdahl

Magnus Olsson on board Ericsson 3. Image copyright Dave Kneale/Volvo Ocean Race

by Aksel Magdahl

I had the chance to spend two years of my life close to Magnus in the Ericsson project for the Volvo 2008-09. There will be a big void left after him. I’ve been in contact with most of the Ericsson 3 guys and we all share similar feelings.

We faced tough times on Ericsson 3: the pre-race crew selection, a penalty for our ‘illegal keel’, boat breakages and a skipper change. We manage to come back on legs 4 and 5 but I was beyond my limit at that stage and I don’t think I was the only one. We endured whale damage and took last place on leg 7. We had to take tough ‘push or slow down’ decisions and a disastrous tack cost us home victory and glory on the leg into Stockholm. We didn’t always agree onboard… but we had a lot of respect for each other.

At the time I was doing my first big ocean race. I wanted to make the absolute maximum of it and get 110% from the boat and the guys and even more of myself. Having been racing “forever”, Magnus had a bit of a different take on things and prioritised a “happy boat” – that was one of his favourite expressions. He knew a “happy boat” would be a winner on the long run. Like Roger Nilsson said, tears were shed on a couple of occasions. But we did well in the race and the team stuck together, something Magnus’ personality played a major part in, and we came out of it as good friends.

Our afterguard arrangement on Ericsson 3 was pretty characteristic of his style: Magnus trusted people and he liked teams to take decisions together in democracy. I had free reign in the navigation department; he didn’t even want to sit down to have a look before he went on deck. As a matter of fact I don’t think he ever sat down at the navigation station. He was running things on deck with Richard Mason and this setup worked remarkably well.

Magnus and I used to get rid of the stress on our road bikes. We would escape for a long ride only to find ourselves at a nice café enjoying a big meal or a cookie after 20 minutes. I will always remember his old, red and rusty Peugeot bike. He refused to borrow my newer spare... and of course he refused to wear a helmet, light or cycling shoes, his flat feet pointing in all directions.

Magnus and I stayed in touch when possible after the race. We’ve had the chance to sail and work together again. If I had missed a call from him, it would make me smile just to hear his happy message on the voicemail.

I know how much he loved to be involved in sailing projects and I’m glad he could keep doing what he lived for until the very last day, kicking off another Volvo campaign and staying in Lanzarote, which I know he was very fond of.

His sudden death was a very sad shock. It touches all of the sailing community because of his positive and extremely extrovert personality. My thoughts are with his family.

As sad as it is, it doesn’t take long for the funny stories to come to mind when talking with the other guys who knew him well. These stories are never-ending and will stay in the sailing community forever! The things he could get away with because of his happy laughter…

Volvo Ocean Race