A life at sea
With three editions of the Volvo Ocean Race under his belt, Martin Strömberg is one of Sweden’s most experienced sailors. When Martin won the 2011–12 edition of the race, it was the realisation of a dream that began when he was just ten years old.
Made in Sweden
Growing up on the Swedish island of Orust, Martin Strömberg was never far from the water. Childhood summers were spent at his grandparents’ cottage on Sweden’s west coast, which only strengthened his relationship with the sea. Perhaps it was destiny that Martin would become a sailor.
One summer, Martin’s parents thought it would be fun to enrol Martin in a week-long sailing school. It was an opportunity he grabbed with both hands – in fact, he hasn’t stopped sailing since.
Discovering the race
Sweden, with its long coastlines and even longer sailing history, is the perfect place for a young sailing enthusiast to grow up. And soon, Martin discovered the race that would change his life.
“I discovered the Volvo Ocean Race when I was ten years old. There was a Swedish boat called Intrum Justitia, which I followed closely on TV. Since then, my goal has been to compete in the race and to win it.”
The 1993–94 edition, in which Intrum Justitia competed, not only introduced Martin to the Volvo Ocean Race, it also introduced him to some of his future heroes – the famous Swedish sailors Magnus Olsson, Roger Nilsson, and Gurra Krantz.
“Magnus and Roger are giants,” says Martin, “Everyone in sailing knows who they are. Over the years Martin would be introduced to and influenced by other Swedish heroes, heroes like the Swedish sailor and designer, Pelle Petterson.
“Not only was Pelle a great sailor,” explains Martin, “he also designed one of my favourite Volvos – the P1800.”
Growing up surrounded by all this Swedish sailing talent, it’s no wonder the ten-year-old Martin felt inspired to take to the waves himself.
A career sets sail
Martin’s sailing education began when he earned a scholarship at Lerum Sailing Academy, which is located just outside of Gothenburg. After graduating, Martin began work as a sailmaker. And when he wasn’t working, he spent every spare minute out on the water, practising and perfecting his sailing skills. All this hard work, dedication and determination would pay off in the years to come.
While at the sailing academy in Lerum, Martin learned to sail a wide range of different vessels – from Lasers (small racing dinghies usually manned by one person) to larger keel boats. And it was while sailing these larger keel boats that Martin developed a passion for match racing.
When it came to racing, Martin competed as much as he could. And then, in 2004, he took part in the Volvo Baltic Race. It was here that Martin got the chance to sail a Volvo Ocean Race boat for the first time. His dream of competing in the Volvo Ocean Race was getting closer all the time. Then, in 2008, all that hard work and dedication paid off as he proudly took his position on the starting line of the 2008-9 edition of the race as part of the Swedish Ericsson team.
“My dream is to sail into Gothenburg in first place, with more young, Swedish sailors onboard.“
Sailing at the extreme
As a member of the Swedish Ericsson team, it wasn’t long before Martin experienced first hand just how extreme life onboard can be when you take on the human challenge of the Volvo Ocean Race.
“When you compete in the Volvo Ocean Race for the first time, you have no idea what you’re getting into. So, you can’t really prepare yourself,” explains Martin.
“We faced a lot of very strong winds and huge waves during that race. But the worst thing that happened was we broke the boat up pretty badly on one of the legs as we sailed up to China. We discovered a hole in the hull. Pretty soon, water was pouring in and the boat began to sink.”
But what happened next was even more remarkable. After managing to guide the boat safely to shore, the team assumed their race was over. But once the rebuilding work started, it became clear they would be able to carry on. Incredibly, the team did more than just carry on. Once the boat had been repaired, they set sail and managed to successfully complete the leg.
Now they had the wind in their sails and by the time the next leg was over, they were in first place. To come back from such a disastrous situation and win the longest leg in the history of the race was an incredible achievement and a perfect example of the kind of teamwork, skill and dedication needed to succeed in the Volvo Ocean Race.
Taking on the next challenge
Since Martin’s dramatic debut in the 2008–9 edition, he has competed in the Volvo Ocean Race three times. But the undoubted highlight came in 2011–12, when Martin won the race as part of Team Groupama. The dream that began when he was just a ten-year-old boy watching the race on television in his parents’ living room had become reality.
So, what’s next for Martin? Well, he is always on the lookout for a new challenge. And his next challenge is to encourage and inspire more young Swedes to become interested in sailing.
“I’m very proud, but quite sad, that I’m the only Swedish sailor in the race. There’s a lot of sailing talent in Sweden. I believe we just need to give a few of the young sailors the opportunity to experience these boats and learn how to sail them,” says Martin. “My dream is to sail into Gothenburg in first place, with more young, Swedish sailors onboard.”
And with pioneering role models like Martin leading the way, perhaps that day isn’t so far away.