As Mālama makes its way across the Atlantic back home to France, we’re introducing some of the shore team onboard for the delivery. Before heading out to see, we caught up with Adrian Bleninger about his career to date, his role in 11th Hour Racing Team and his big dreams and ambitions…
|Position with team:
|Shore / Technical crew
|Past sailing teams / campaigns
|Volvo70, TP52, IMOCA, Figaro,
Q: Start off by giving a bit of background, how did you get into sailing and found your way to France?
Adrian Bleninger: I started sailing at home in Bavaria. I grew up by a big mountain lake called ‘Ammersee’ and sailed there for the first time, probably 20 years ago. I pretty much got straight into racing and have actually never just sailed for fun or as a holiday activity. It has always been racing that has inspired me!
Making a career out of it has been a childhood dream and doing The Ocean Race and the Vendée Globe myself one day still is my big goal – I’ve basically been chasing it ever since I started! As I transitioned into shorthanded sailing, it sort of happened naturally that I ended up in France, as the solo sailing scene is really centered in Lorient in Brittany.
After finishing my apprenticeships working as a boat builder and sailor, I have been lucky enough to go right around the world. I have lived in Gosport, UK for a year, where I worked on a boat refit, and have also worked in Germany and Italy in the yacht racing scene. I’ve always been pushing myself to find interesting projects, and wherever I found them, I’ve ended up going and working.
Q: How did you find yourself working with 11th Hour Racing Team?
AB: Oh, that was really interesting. In this offshore sailing scene, you’re always a little bit in touch with people and teams, to share news about projects and put yourself out there. In my case, I was in touch with the team a couple of years ago, but at that time, we never ended up finding the right position for me. But then I started racing in the Figaro Class in Lorient, and it was a case of ‘right place, right time’. 11th Hour Racing Team needed somebody on the shore crew to help finish Mālama and I was quite free at that time, so I seized the opportunity and here I am!
Q: You have some pretty big ambitions for yourself as a sailor,tell us a bit about this?
AB: As I’ve already mentioned, The Ocean Race is a dream that I have been chasing after for over 10 years now. I really want to position myself for the upcoming one in 2023, ideally as part of a sailing team.
In addition to that, I want to establish myself more in the short-handed scene and become a better sailor. It is also my goal to be on the start line of the next Vendée Globe, so I am working hard to get there too.
Q: You’ve worked with the team for the Transat Jacques Vabre, could you ever see yourself participating in this race? If so, if you could pick one skipper from the current race to sail with, who would it be?
AB: Oh yes, definitely! I would love to do the Transat Jacques Vabre!
Ideally, you will find me on the start line in the event’s next edition. It’s a great lead-up to the Vendée Globe, which is my number one objective. So I would be super excited to do it.
When it comes to our skippers, wow, that is a great question! All our sailors are amazing and quite honestly, I would be happy to pick just any of them!
When sailing with somebody, the human side of things is always very important, so it would probably just play out with who I’d fit with best on a personal level. You become a team by training and moving things together towards a common goal. It’s only when you spend sufficient time together on the water that you really tell if things are going to work between you and your co-skipper.
Simon and Justine are a great example, their dynamic is amazing. They are performance-driven and there is no ego onboard. They just want to do the best job they possibly can and this is all that counts from my perspective.
Q: So if you could do The Ocean Race, The Vendée Globe, and the Transat Jacques Vabre back-to-back, would you do it?
AB: Oh yeah, absolutely! Doing the three of them all together would be a dream come true!
You probably have to be a bit crazy and enjoy spending all this time isolated from the world and even by yourself, which is something I genuinely do enjoy when I sail. I just love being on the water.
You need to have the right mindset as well, it’s not all about body strength and fitness, mental preparation is crucial as well.
Q: The last few months with the team have been pretty full-on with the launch of the boat and prepping for the race? How have you found it?
AB: Oh, it was definitely full-on for the whole team. We worked tons of hours over several months, just pushing through it and sometimes not even getting to sleep much. We just kept on going.
This is actually kind of normal though before launching a new boat, there is always something happening and you quickly find yourself in a situation where you just need to go full speed ahead.
What’s really great with our Team in particular, is that we are all driven to do their best and also very emotionally involved.
Finishing Mālama was not just our job, we really wanted to bring this project forward and create something amazing, which is why we all worked so hard. It was very tiring but seeing the result and arriving here in Martinique is just an awesome feeling. It was definitely worth it.
Q: Any major learnings? Unexpected surprises?
AB: I actually can’t think of any bad surprises along the way. It’s normal that unexpected things happen. There is always a way to fix them and correct your work. 11th Hour Racing Team is actually the biggest team I have ever worked for, and it’s been the biggest team on the whole scene this year, with two boats getting ready to compete at the same time. It was super interesting to see how that was being managed, having this brand-new boat and an older one at the same time.
Q: What are you looking forward to most about the upcoming trip onboard Mālama back to France?
AB: I definitely look forward to spending quite a while on this awesome boat we built!
We didn’t have that much time to sail it and really see our ‘product’ on the water, how it actually works and get another perspective being so focused on it on shore.
Then it’s of course always great to be on the water and sail! I expect it will take us around 20 days, which is a really solid opportunity as a learning experience. I am not only talking about the boat, but also for me, as a sailor.
This is the latest generation of IMOCA Class boats which I have always been drawn to. They are so technical, with refined electronics and a lot of innovation. Spending time on Mālama on the water will definitely help me to understand her much better and see how we can improve her further. This is something I really look forward to.