THE RED BULLETIN: What does it take to win the Vendée Globe?
ANDREAS HANAKAMP: You’ve always got to do the right thing at the right time and avoid any mistakes as much as you can.
That’s not all that surprising…
Seriously, though, when you’re alone on a racing yacht for three months at a stretch, trying to sail around the world as quickly as possible and you’re getting three hours of sleep a day – and not even in one go, but in 10- to 30-minute naps – it’s all about economising.
What do you mean by economising?
Any unnecessary movement or manoeuvre is a waste of time. Any wrong decision will use up precious time and energy.
And the lack of sleep must affect your decision-making…
Indeed. It’s like you’re on a downward spiral. The wrong decision can lead to a loss of energy. The loss of energy means you’re more inclined to make bad decisions and so on. You end up getting caught in a lull or on a reef or you sail directly into the worst storm you’ve ever experienced in your life.
How do you get out of a vicious circle?
With difficulty. But you can avoid getting into it if you plan well. You usually get weather updates and your rivals’ positions on your on-board computer every six hours. Simulation software works that data into viable scenarios and you can then come up with a strategy. Once there you’ve obviously got to be in good shape to do that work. But you also know when you need to make your next decision and which jobs you need to do before you reach that point. And then set yourself sleep and action times.
It sounds simple…
It is – as long as you’ve settled on the right strategy. Plus, you need experience.
That’s why these races tend to be won by old hands – provided you stick to your plan. You also need self-discipline and self-management. You have to be strict, rigorous and focused on how you carry it through.
Do you sleep to order?
You do. You do everything to order. You have to give yourself clear instructions and obey them. We’re talking procedures and drill. Of course that happens in all top-level sport. Top sportsmen practise procedures in a clearly defined pattern countless times – it’s their drill – until they are confident of their own abilities compared to their opponents’.
What about intuition? Is there room for that?
When we make gut decisions, we intuitively compare what we’ve already experienced with the situation we need to assess. So the likelihood of making the right gut decision increases with your skill and, even more crucially, with experience. It goes further than that, though. When high-performance sportsmen and women take on something very serious, they often make decisions outsiders don’t understand. When [Austrian sailors] Roman Hagara and Hans-Peter Steinacher went for Olympic gold in Athens in 2004, for example, it looked to the outsider like they’d set the wind to the sails instead of the other
way around. Intuition at that high level is also part of Zen Buddhism. I recommend people read Zen in the Art of Archery by Eugen Herrigel.
What role does risk play in the Vendée Globe?
Ideally, none at all. That doesn’t just apply to the Vendée Globe. Basically, we should first always ask ourselves what we want to achieve and then plan our approach precisely according to that goal. In sailing, the result is the aggregate of a number of competitions, and only a downward outlier can be discarded, which means if you sail conservatively and make sure that you’re always in the top 10 in individual races, you’ll be world champion.