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A Q&A with Ryan Breymaier

On April 10, American sailor Ryan Breymaier and his German teammate Boris Herrmann crossed the finish line on board the Open 60 Neutrogena in fifth place out of 15 boats in the double-handed Barcelona World Race—despite being relative newcomers to shorthanded offshore racing and sailing a relatively “old” boat, built in 2004.The 25,000-mile race begins and ends in the
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On April 10, American sailor Ryan Breymaier and his German teammate Boris Herrmann crossed the finish line on board the Open 60 Neutrogena in fifth place out of 15 boats in the double-handed Barcelona World Race—despite being relative newcomers to shorthanded offshore racing and sailing a relatively “old” boat, built in 2004.

The 25,000-mile race begins and ends in the Mediterranean, rounding Cape Horn along the way. Although the teams are allowed to make “technical” stops at ports to repair damages, Breymaier and Herrman completed the course without stopping, jury-rigging their canting keel on the fly after it developed an oil leak in the Southern Ocean.

Breymaier is the first American to complete the race, which began in 2007 and is already a major event on the European shorthanded racing scene. SAIL caught up with Breymaier shortly after the finish to see how he felt about his recent circumnavigation and the future of his sailing career.

What do you think was the key to your success in the Barcelona World Race?

We had really good preparation. I knew the boat really well and Boris is a super good sailor, so he was easily able to adapt to the boat even though he didn’t have quite as much experience on 60-footers. It was also the combination of being young, adaptable and full of energy. We were super motivated to do well, and we had a strong boat that wasn’t going to break very easily, which helped a lot.

We were also very complimentary of one another. Boris is very good and very efficient in boat-on-boat tactics and making boats go fast. I’m more of a big boat person, and know more how to fix the boat and keep it safe and under control. We shared in all the decision-making and it worked out really well.

Do you remember any particular high or low points in the race?

The worst part of the race, by far, was leaving the Straits of Gibraltar and getting stuck with no wind and the current against us for 24 hours, then watching us lose two places like we were sitting still, then watching boats in front of us gain two or three hundred miles in 24 hours—by far the worst!

The best part was rounding Cape Horn. We’d had problems with the keel at that stage, and we were happy to get around—it was like a door opened to the sprint to the finish. We also had really good weather with 14-15 knots of breeze, and we had our close encounter with Sodebo (under the command of Thomas Coville attempting to break the solo circumnavigation record).

Was there a turning point, when you knew you were going to make it?

I don’t think there was ever any doubt in our minds that we were going to finish the race. The only time we were sort of freaked out was when the keel released and went to the middle and was swinging back and forth freely between the rams. That scared the two of us a lot. We got it under control after a little while, put it back together and continued on. Both of us were very, very determined from the outset to 1) finish the race and 2) finish it nonstop. We would have done anything to make sure that happened. Luckily, we managed to do it with a minimum of drama.

Some of the other teams took technical stops, but you didn’t: what are your thoughts on that aspect of the race?

As you can imagine, it’s a little bit of a controversial point. I reckon if you’re a race organizer and you plan a nonstop race around the world and allow people to stop—even if you do give them a penalty—it sort of makes it two races. In my opinion, if you’re going to say that you’re racing nonstop around the world, then you should have to race nonstop around the world. That being said, sponsors pay an awful lot of money, and if these boats break and they stop racing, the amount of coverage they get ends, so it’s a hard call. My opinion, honestly, is that you shouldn’t. The Vendee Globe survives without technical stops. I think it’s pretty reasonable to say that if you want to race nonstop around the world you shouldn’t be able to stop…we feel pretty happy to have finished third of boats that didn’t stop.

Was there anything about the race that surprised you?

We were very happy with how fast we were against the other boats, except for the two new (Guillaume) Verdier designs. Virbac-Paprec 3 (which won the race) and Foncia (which withdrew because of damage to the rig) were significantly faster than us. That was a bit of a surprise, but it was also a bit of a surprise how competitive we were against all the rest of the boats. We tried really hard before the race to get the boat tuned up as best we could, figure out our sailplan, get some news sails built, and in the end it really paid off. We spent time working on different ballast combinations, daggerboard combinations, sailplan and all the rest of it, and we did manage to gain a whole lot.

The underwater appendages and all that were last upgraded in 2007. We sailed the boat a little bit differently and built all new sails, some of which were fairly different from the old ones. Our downwind inventory changed an awful lot, and that was cool. It made a big difference to our speed. It’s an older boat, but it’s the only one of its generation still there and the only one capable of sailing at all with these other boats, so we were very happy with it.

What are your plans for the future?

I still am involved in Roland Jourdain’s team and he has a MOD (Multi One Design) 70 that I’m supposed to be sailing on starting this June. I’m also looking at some other projects, including continuing with IMOCA (International Monohull Open Class Association). I like IMOCA, and it would be cool to continue, if I could find some sponsorship. But sponsorship is awfully hard to come by, so I’d rather stick with something that works—this MOD 70. It’s going to be good fun, and along the way, hopefully I can do some more IMOCA sailing and get back into some big boat private owner professional sailing. I sort of missed out on that the past three or four years concentrating on IMOCA.

Solo sailing would be interesting, but to be honest, I’ve sailed around the world shorthanded nonstop and it took me one hundred days. That was an awful long time, and to do that again, especially by myself, it would have to be a very good project: one where I had all the money that I needed to make sure everything was properly done and a boat that was capable of being in the competition for the podium before I left the dock. If the goal was to go around the world by myself, I wouldn’t do it. If it was to go around the world by myself to be competitive, to have a chance to win, I would definitely consider it.

Is there a place for more Americans in the BWR?

Definitely. These Open 60s are built for one guy, so when you’ve got two people, you get enough sleep, somebody is always on watch and you can do a third of the maneuvers by yourself. It’s the smallest team there is, but it’s still a team, and I think that can work really well for the United States. There are a ton of good sailors who would be able to get on one of these boats and within a fairly short period of time be adept at sailing them. They’re not that difficult to sail, and if there’s somebody who has experience with some ocean racing to begin with, I think that they could do just as well as we have, and with the right sponsorship and some training, be in the hunt for the podium.

I’d love to team up with somebody who was American and go out there to show them what an American team can do…especially if we could put the flag on the boat and be rah-rah American; that would be great. It would be cool to expose this whole scene and show that it’s possible for people from the United States to get involved in it and to do well at it.

For more on the BWR, click here.

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