Volvo Ocean Race: Sail around the world once – and survive


Sail around the world once – and survive

Volvo Ocean Race: Sail around the world once - and survive-ocean

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Michael Muller (right) on board the "Puma". To protect themselves from the bad weather, Muller and skipper Ken Read wear protective suits and hoods.

Credit: Amory Ross / PUMA Ocean Racing / Vol

Volvo Ocean Race: Sail around the world once - and survive-ocean

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Michael Muller on the wave-flooded forecastle of the "Puma".

Source: IAN ROMAN / Volvo Ocean Race

Volvo Ocean Race: Sail around the world once - and survive-ocean

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The ships at this year’s event were around 21.50 meters long. Muller also took on repair tasks on board the "Puma" and had to leave the deck in the process.

Source: Volvo Ocean Race

Volvo Ocean Race: Sail around the world once - and survive-race

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Muller on board the “Puma”: He took part in the Volvo Ocean Race for the second time.

Credit: PAUL TODD / Volvo Ocean Race

The next Round the World Race starts in two years. A breather for the sailors to cope with the exertions of the past nine months on the most difficult regatta of all.

NAfter the race, it’s not much different than before the start: It’s the time when people talk about records, victories and unfulfilled longings. Of course, the Volvo Ocean Race is also about winners and losers, but there is more at stake: the life of every single sailor.

The American Ken Read is one of the most experienced skippers in the world, he controls them "puma" and says shortly before the last race near the harbor in Galway, Ireland: "None of us have to call a wife or mother of a sailor to tell her that her husband or son died at sea. That is more important than sporting success."

After around 40,000 nautical miles and nine months, the Round the World Race, as the event was once called, is finally over. A race that takes the sailors to the limits of their ability to perform and to suffer. And probably beyond. To sail the Ocean Race means to forego all comfort. To put all needs aside and to be able to suffer. And the suffering doesn’t even end during the nights.

"You have to be able to put aside the need for sleep", says the German Michael Muller. He is part of the team of "puma" (USA) behind the "Groupama" from France and the "camper" (New Zealand) finished third.

Shortly after the last long-distance stage, he said that he was frustrated with the outcome of the race. Muller was already there at the 2007/2008 event. At that time he had finished second. With the hoped-for victory it didn’t work out again. The reason why it wasn’t enough is due to an incident that is typical of the Ocean Race.

Broken mast 1600 miles from Cape Town

The first stage ends for the "puma" not in Cape Town, but 1,600 miles from the destination in the middle of the South Atlantic. The yacht was in second place at the time, but that "Rig came down", as Muller says.

With the engine and an emergency sail, the "puma" at least the island of Tristan da Cunha, 500 miles away, on its own. But only because the captain of a freighter took pity on the ship and gave Skipper Read 500 liters of diesel at sea. With a delay of several days, the "puma" Cape Town – on board a transport ship. "It’s like a breakdown", says Muller looking back. And so the first stage already costs the overall victory.

But a race around the world from Alicante in Spain via Cape Town, Abu Dhabi, Sanya (China), Auckland (New Zealand), Itaja (Brazil), Miami, Lisbon to Galway in Ireland is actually about who can cover the fastest nautical miles ? For most amateur sailors, crossing the Atlantic is one of their greatest dreams, but it usually does not come true: the company is too dangerous, even as a participant in the Atlantik Rally for Cruisers, in which the route is covered with several ships.

The dimensions of the Volvo Ocean Race are different because the strain on the material and the sailor exceeds the limit. Again and again sailors die at this event, it was like that from the beginning. When it was first held in 1973, three sailors lost their lives.

Torn from the ship and drowned

In the penultimate race, 2006, the Dutchman Hans Horrevoets from the ABN Amro Two team died. He had been torn overboard by a wave during the night on the last leg from New York to Portsmouth. The ABN Amro immediately initiated a man overboard maneuver, but the Dutchman had already drowned due to serious head injuries when he was rescued.

Muller, the only sailor from Germany in the Ocean Race 2011/2012, knows the risks, but he does not allow thoughts like these to get near him. He says the good moments predominate. Then when the yacht is making a good trip. The maneuvers and the skipper’s tactics are right – and the other boats sail after them. So it is before the victory of the "puma" in Brasil.

Many spectators await the sailors there. They cheer as they did in Galway at the end. Probably also because people live on the coasts who can estimate what the sailors had to endure.

Have there been any dangerous situations? You have to ask Muller twice before he lets himself into the question. His daughter is sitting on his lap in Galway Harbor. Not being able to see her, not being able to hold her in his arms, tormented him on board.

Muller remembers that during one night tree trunks and huge pallets drifted past them just a few meters away. "But our boat has a crash box and two watertight bulkheads at the front." A sentence that is supposed to convey confidence and trust in the technology, but still sounds as if parachutists without a parachute would also have a chance.

Like the life of galley slaves

Muller cannot explain in more detail why he put up with the rigors of the nine-month regatta. He’s a professional, he earns from sailing his money, he’ll have to accept that. And when his daughter was born at the 2007/08 event while he was traveling off the Fiji Islands, he accepted that too. Just like the other troubles that are reminiscent of the life of galley slaves.

The sailors are even whipped: not by martial overseers, but by waves that can tower up to 30 meters. Anyone who falls overboard under such conditions dies. This couldn’t happen to galley slaves, they were chained up.

The sleeping places for the sailors are also unreasonable. Squeezed against the ship’s side, they crouch for a few hours, with two sailors each having to share a seat. And only one toilet is available for the eleven crew members. There is no shower or heating, but there is drinking water that is obtained from a desalination plant.

The Volvo Ocean Race 2011/2012 is over. Ken Read, Michael Muller and the rest of the crew win the final harbor race. That doesn’t change anything in third place overall. That wouldn’t be fair either, says Read. Because a couple of tons of laps around Galway is a ridiculous task compared to the long haul stages.

The race costs 25 million euros per yacht

The race cost around 25 million euros – for each of the six yachts. In two years it’s all about the world again. With new standardized ships, so that the costs are reduced by around five million euros per campaign. And as a result, perhaps more teams take on the toughest and probably most honest test for sailors than this time.

Does Muller want to be there again? He hesitates to answer and doesn’t want to think any further than the next six months. And in those the Kieler does not want to lose solid ground under his feet.

The trip to Ireland was supported by Volvo. You can find our standards of transparency and journalistic independence at

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