© Antoine Auriol / Team Malizia / The Ocean Race
The Ocean Race: from race control to race skipper
It's a big leap from Race Control in Alicante to skippering an IMOCA team in The Ocean Race. Malizia's Will Harris is enjoying every step of the journey
In the 2017-18 edition of the Volvo Ocean Race, Will Harris was a duty officer in Race Control in Alicante, Spain, providing shore support from Race HQ.
Now, he’s preparing to leave the dock in Itajaí as skipper of Team Malizia for leg 4 of The Ocean Race. Unlike leg 2, where Harris stepped up to the role with Boris Herrmann off the boat recovering from an injury, this was a scheduled promotion, a recognition of talent, ambition and motivation, as well as the strength of the larger team.
For Harris, it’s an acknowledgement of five years of hard work to take that giant step from duty officer in Race Control to skipper of just five IMOCAs in The Ocean Race.
“I was very lucky in the last race to be part of Race Control. I saw it as a good stepping stone to getting an opportunity to have a ride in the race,” he says.
“I gained so much experience from being in this control centre monitoring seven boats as they raced around the world. Although I wasn’t sailing in the race I think I learned a lot about how best to approach The Ocean Race.”
Since then, he’s been a man on a mission to get on the water and absorb all the learnings he can.
“The last five years have been about developing my own sailing career. I’m very determined to get to where I want to be. I knew I wanted a spot in The Ocean Race and I’ve worked hard to do everything I can to be here. I knew I had to take on as much offshore sailing as possible, to get into as many races as possible.
“I was fortunate to meet Boris and Team Malizia in 2019 and we just jelled. We definitely get on well and Boris has a lot of trust in me… There were a hundred sailors with more experience who he could have chosen over me when we first met. I was just 26 at the time and I’d never even sailed across the Atlantic before… But he chose me to race double handed with him in his IMOCA.
“Now we’re at the point where we trust each other and I think he sees that I’m very hungry and determined to get ahead and I’ll work very hard for it. I think that’s important. You need to work hard and say ‘yes’ to every opportunity that comes your way. You never know what doors will open.”
For Boris Herrmann, the relationship with Will Harris proved to be a good fit from the start:
“The story is that a sailing journalist - Andi Robertson - said to us, ‘I know a co-skipper for you for the Transat Jacques Vabre… You don’t know him yet, but he’s fit, he has a lot of energy, he’s good-looking and he’s a very good sailor. His name is Will Harris and he’s like a young version of you - take him!’
“It turned out to be good advice and it’s been a good fit, as Will and I have matched up well from the beginning. He’s a talented sailor and very determined.”
With the ‘co-skipper’ arrangement, Herrmann has the luxury to build a team that can function and race at a high level, even when he isn’t on board.
“It’s a fantastic feeling to see the team go and perform without me on board,” Herrmann says. “I wasn’t on for leg 2 and they came very close to winning that leg. In the morning when I drove down to the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town, I still thought they might win. It was very close… Seeing them perform and enjoy the race without me is a tremendous satisfaction.
“It’s been intentional to build this project for The Ocean Race not just around me, but around a team, so that I can step out at some moments. So we needed to have a group that could work with Will and myself both being skipper at different times and had the skills and talent to support with different people on board.”
In writing this story, the word ‘determined’ keeps coming up, whether speaking to Will, or to others about Will, so is this a fair description of who he is?
“I am super-hungry and super-determined to achieve what I set out to do and I will work very hard for it,” Harris says. “I’ve been fortunate that Boris and Team Malizia have put their trust in me. Thinking back to the last race, it’s now five years later and I’m sitting here as co-skipper on the winning boat on the toughest leg in the history of The Ocean Race and I’m looking forward to being skipper on the next leg up to Newport. It’s a dream come true!”