As the 2022 Route du Rhum approaches, we take a look at some of the top names set to compete in the race. Toby Heppell looks at Boris Herrmann’s chances
Non-French sailors who have made a name for themselves in the IMOCA 60 fleet are rare, but German-born Boris Herrmann is just one such international skipper who has impressed.
Many singlehanded offshore racers also race in a variety of other classes, from crewed offshore to dinghy racing. Herrmann is just such a jack of all trades, regularly racing 505 dinghies and competing in the foiling catamaran GC32 series.
But the German is best known for his offshore shorthanded racing. In a world dominated by the French, Boris Herrmann has a long list of events in which he was the sole German competing.
His first proper offshore solo race was the Mini Transat in 2001 where he was the only German on the startline (and the youngest skipper too). His 11th place finish there marked him out as one to watch for the future.
Boris Herrmann moved into the Class 40s, sailing Beluga Racer into 2nd place in the single-handed 2008 Artemis Transat. He then won the Portimão Global Ocean Race, a five-leg round the world race on Class 40 boats, with co-skipper Felix Oehme.
On moving up to the IMOCA fleet, he raced in the double-handed Barcelona World Race in 2010 with American co-skipper Ryan Breymaier, finishing in 5th place. He added more top five finishes in both the Route du Rhum (2018) and Transat Jacques Vabre (2017), showing that Herrmann has what it takes to race at the sharp end of the fleet.
In 2018 (alongside Pierre Casiraghi) Herrmann founded the Malizia Ocean Challenge project. This initiative aims to combine sailing, science and education to get children fascinated about sailing and ocean topics whilst teaching them about climate change.
In 2019 he sailed climate activist Greta Thunberg from Plymouth to New York City in mid-late August 2019 on his emission-free IMOCA 60 Malizia II.
With the backing of Yacht Club de Monaco (which had supported him with the IMOCA purchase), he entered the 2020-21 Vendée Globe with Malizia II (originally launched under Gitana colours for Seb Josse for the 2016-17 edition of the race) and in so doing became the first German to compete in the event (Isabelle Joschke is Franco-German, having been born in Munich but racing as a French entrant).
Boris Herrmann had an incredibly strong race and for a time it looked as though he may even become the first non-French sailor to win it in the tense last few days of racing.
After Charlie Dalin took line honours in the Vendée, four skippers, including Herrmann, Yannick Bestaven, Louis Burton and Thomas Ruyant, were left steaming across a wet and windy Bay of Biscay into Les Sables d’Olonne at 16-20 knots, with the margins too close to predict who would finish ahead – all were due some time correction thanks to their efforts to help a search and rescue operation for fellow skipper Kevin Escoffier earlier in the race.
However, Herrmann’s chances dissipated just minutes after Dalin’s victory, when his boat, which was in 3rd place at the time and still well within his six-hour margin to overtake Dalin, collided with a fishing boat some 90 miles from the Vendée Globe dock. He limped home to finish 5th in the event.
IMOCA 60 Malizia – Seaexplorer
Sail number: MON 1297
LWL: 18.28 m
Beam: Not published
Draught: 4.5 m
Displacement: Not published
Foils: Yes, latest generation
Malizia – Seaexplorer is relatively unique in the world of IMOCA 60s in that she has been designed with the fully crewed event The Ocean Race in mind in addition to short handed sailing – the only other IMOCA 60 launch to date that has taken this route is 11th Hour Racing’s Malãma, which is geared more towards The Ocean Race than solo racing.
Herrmann hopes to be equally competitive in both events, but they both have slightly different requirements, with fully crewed boats able to be pushed harder for longer they need to be tougher and are thus likely to be built to a minimum weight. They are also less likely to be optimised for pure downwind performance.
For this new design, partly due to the fully crewed needs for The Ocean Race and partly as a personal preference, Malizia – Seaexplorer has gone with an almost entirely enclosed cockpit. It is not quite as radical as Alex Thomson’s last generation Hugo Boss is (now Hublot in the hands of Alan Roura), but it is not far off.
It’s an interesting conundrum and it will certainly be fascinating to see how Herrmann goes in the 2022 Route du Rhum in his new boat.