Britain’s Rob Greenhalgh is one of the most experienced Ocean Race sailors out there, with five circumnavigations under his belt. The British all-rounder is much sought-after by all the top professional sailing teams, renowned for squeezing that little bit extra speed from moths, to multihullls to maxis.
Position with team:
Number of Years in Sail Racing:
Started sailing at age 7 in the UK
Past Sailing Teams/Campaigns:
ABN Amro I in the 2005–06 Volvo Ocean Race, Puma for Puma Ocean Racing Team in the 2008–09 Volvo Ocean Race, Azzam for Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing in the 2011–12 Volvo Ocean Race and MAPFRE in the 2014–15 and 2017-18 Volvo Ocean Race
Q: Rob, what does it mean to be back for a sixth Ocean Race – what keeps you coming back for more?
Rob Greenhalgh: It’s true what they say: once you’ve done one race, you’re part of it and it’s part of you. You want to go back again and again. It’s not just about the winning, it’s about performing as well as you can. The last few races in particular have been amazing – the competition was so intense and the challenge of it draws you in. That’s why I’m really looking forward to getting back to it next year, especially to do it with a crew like 11th Hour Racing Team which has a dual mission – not only to win the Race but also to be racing with purpose through our commitment to sustainability.
Q: Obviously your experience is a huge asset that you bring to the team. What’s the absolute biggest lesson you’ve learned in your five previous Ocean Races?
RG: I’ve found that being prepared and asking the tough questions gets you the results. You have to ask yourself: are you doing this the best way you possibly can? And you have to be honest with yourself. It’s a long race, you can make adjustments if you need to, but you’re only going to be able to do that if you ask questions and challenge yourself over and over again.
Q: Then it sounds like you liked to draw or tinker a lot with machinery when you were kid?
RG: Actually not at all. We used to go down to quite a rural area in southwest Ireland called Crookhaven. When I was like 10, I would work at the local shop and bar and I spent most of my time working there, keeping the shelves stocked, serving people, cleaning. I was always kept busy that way and with that came a lot of learning. The owner of the bar would serve fresh shrimp and would send me down to the waterside to fetch them from the traps. I was seaside, with lots of boats and ribs around, and I was always working with my hands so that’s probably where it all started.
Q: So what’s the deal on the nickname Irish that everyone calls you. We know what it means but when did it start?
RG: Literally it was the first day of University at Southampton and it was the first big party night. Most of the people couldn’t understand me — I arrived with a really thick West Cork accent. So I had to talk a little slower even and after that I was just known as the “Irish” guy. It stuck ever since and now a lot of people have to actually ask me what my real first name is because they’ve only ever heard “Irish”.
Q: What’s been your go-to activity during the recent lockdown?
RG: I’m quite lucky, I have a home gym. I’ve been doing crossfit for over a year now so that keeps me pretty active and it has been a big focus for me. It keeps me fit… dumbbells, barbells, rowing. And working on all the technique for cross-fit while I have this time has certainly been something that has kept me going.
Q: What are you most excited about for the next Ocean Race and is there a particular stopover you are most looking forward to?
RG: “Really excited to see the new boats – the new fleet. It’s so exciting that the box rule back like it used to be [the box rule specifies that the boat design has to have maximum measurements/length “within a box” but the rest of boat is free to have its own design]. It opens up the race to so many new concepts, weight optimization and other design elements, so I’m really looking forward to seeing the designs at the startline. As for the stopover — that’s a really tough one — there’s probably two. Cape Town is absolutely stunning with a super waterfront and amazing food. It’s great to wake up and run up Table Mountain and then head in to work. Just wake up and go. Auckland is also great and has a lot of the same traits to Cape Town — but Cape Town is just a bit more raw.
Q: And what’s your best Ocean Race memory overall dating back over the past 15 years?
RG: Obviously winning that first one back in 2006 was special. It was my first race, too, so that sticks in my mind, of course. And then the last two races in the one design format have been incredible with such close racing. The race in 2017-18 in particular had an incredible finish. We [MAPFRE] were half a mile from winning it.
The Race has so many memorable moments though and each leg is so eventful. There are phenomenal people you meet in the race and going to so many places is always special. It’s a great job to have.
Q: What is your experience with IMOCA sailing or other classes that might have similar characteristics to the foiling IMOCA?
RG: I’ve done two transatlantic crossings now, the first being the delivery from Brazil at the end of the Transat Jacques Vabre in 2019 and then this year we delivered the boat back to France from Newport, RI after an extensive training session this Fall. I also did a bit of IMOCA sailing a few years ago with Mike Sanderson. The first Volvo 70s I sailed a decade ago were derived from the IMOCA 60 with the twin rudders but now it’s all about the foiling though, and I bring a lot of experience in that, with Moths and multihulls.
Q: What’s it like sailing on these latest edition IMOCA 60s?
RG: It’s very tricky and uncomfortable as these boats are designed for solo sailing and we had six people on board. It is cramped, both down below and in the cockpit and it’s very difficult to get any rest at all.
Q: As you mentioned, 11th Hour Racing Team is trying to win The Ocean Race, but is also committed to engaging and inspiring sailing fans about issues of sustainability and ocean health. What are you most passionate about when it comes to caring for our planet?
RG: For me, it’s all about the ocean. I’m a sailor and the ocean is where we race our boats and spend our time. It’s our duty to take care of it – we can’t just be ‘users’ of the oceans, we have to be citizens of them and it is our responsibility to protect them.
Q. What are you most looking forward to working with Mark, Charlie and this team on in this upcoming campaign?
RG: I’ve known both Mark and Charlie both for years. They’re great at putting sailors in roles that complement their skills, and they never micro-manage. They’re both real leaders. We all really admire their passion for ocean health and sustainability. From educating kids to inspiring fans to engaging with stakeholders, they have a comprehensive plan to instil change for the benefit of our planet and it is exciting to be part of that.
Q: The new IMOCA class requires less sailors than the VO65s, making the crew selection all that more important. When it comes to the 11th Hour Team, where do you see your strengths/skills contributing the most to the team dynamic and sailing performance?
RG: I think the smaller team suits me well. I’m a pretty well-rounded sailor with a large amount of ocean racing experience. I can certainly make the boat go fast with a small crew which is a benefit I can bring to the team.
Q. Outside of sailing what do you enjoy doing?
RG: I love to go cruising with my partner. Generally we just spend time out on the water, out on Sydney Harbor, that’s usually our go-to.
Q. What are your favorite/least favorite legs of the race and why?
RG: All the legs have unique features which make them special. The Atlantic run down to Cape Town is a great one and rounding Cape Horn is always so iconic. I also love crossing the Atlantic – it’s basically an ocean sprint and always has changing weather patterns that make it so exciting. If I had to choose a less favorite one it might be in and out of Asia or the sail north from Brazil to the U.S. Those sometimes don’t have as many weather systems that are changing and make them a bit less dynamic to race in.
Q. What is the stopover you are most looking forward to?
RG: I always like going to Cape Town, it’s been part of so many races. And I love going to Auckland for their sailing tradition and passion. Newport is special for the smaller-town feel and the love of the sport. This city is so intertwined with the sea due to its location on the coast. But in the end, it’s really all of the stopovers combined that make the Race special.
Q. Favorite sustainability life-hack?
RG: Here in Sydney we are very vigilant about recycling. Once you get into it, it becomes second nature. Once you’ve applied the principles of recycling to all aspects of your life, you’ll find you’re making real progress in your own personal environmental footprint.
Want to know who else is on board? Read more about our latest crew announcement.