The ocean has always been my closest neighbour. I grew up in Austevoll, a tiny island on the west coast of Norway and my earliest memories are of my father taking us sailing, because when you live in the middle of nowhere you often rely on a boat for your daily provisions. Even a trip to our nearest city of Bergen involved hopping on a ferry.
The first time I went sailing alone, I was only six or seven and having that freedom on the water really enhanced my love for it. We had four or five boats in the family and I loved the tranquillity that you got from sailing.
When I moved to England to play football, I thought the passion would begin to fade. But it was a pleasant coincidence to discover that Southampton was on the coast, and had its own marina.
I was very lucky that I could maintain my connection with sailing, but I didn’t actually buy a boat for a long time. Not until 2003, in fact, when I bought a Hallberg-Rassy 43, an expensive, Swedish-built sailing boat.
If your boat is under 50 feet long, you don’t need a licence, but my football commitments meant I couldn’t sail her as often as I would have liked. We had her on the water down in Southampton for six months before I sailed it back home to Norway for the very first time.
That might sound daunting, but you have radar and sat-nav equipment on board to make sure you arrive in one piece. I was sailing with friends who had crossed the North Sea a few times, so I was in good hands. We took it nice and easy, stopping off a few times on the way. It took us about eight days to get to Bergen and it wasn’t an arduous journey.
In fact, sailing is my idea of the perfect holiday. Don’t get me wrong, I still like to take the family to sunny places, but there is nothing better than sailing up to Norway for a week. I can really relax and re-charge my batteries in peaceful, tranquil surroundings, after a long, hard season.
My third Hallberg-Rassy is a 48-footer, but I still find my sailing limited to the summer and even then I can never go that far. But I’m determined to cross the Atlantic one day – that is my ultimate dream.
I’m the only player at Southampton who is so into boats, although a few of the lads have fishing boats. James Beattie and David Howells once bought a Fairline Targa and sailed it over to the Isle of Wight for a bit of fun.
But it’s not just sailing boats that excite me; I’ve had a real interest in powerboats for a long time but never raced one until three years ago, when I had a party back home and some friends decided it would be fun to hold a race.
We’d all bought powerboats at the time, so one Friday we met up and spent the weekend together, going from place to place. It was great fun – there were only five or six boats to begin with but we had 10 or 11 by the end of the race.
Last year we had 16 boats along and I’d now compare it to the Poker Run Powerboats in America, which is a huge event. There’s one big difference though: they just meet up and go from harbour to harbour, whereas we’ll have races in between, over set distances.
I’ve raced my Goldfish 32 (David Coulthard also owns one of these) every year in the Poker-Run Bergen but after finishing fifth last year, I knew I didn’t stand a chance of winning, so I traded it in for a Nor-Tech 36. If I don’t finish first next year I’ll be very disappointed!
My friend and I have built the race up so that it’s become very well known locally. Sweden and other countries have heard of it and want to participate. We have a website in the pipeline and the local media come to all the races but for me it’s important that it doesn’t become too big.
It was set up with the intention of friends having fun and enjoying some friendly rivalry, so we must not lose sight of that.
The boats get up to 90mph and we’ve had one, a Skater, that does 100mph, which begs the question: why is a footballer doing such a danger�ous sport? My response is, ‘Yes, it’s dangerous, but no more so than driving a car down the M3!’ If you know what you’re doing and respect the sea, there are no problems.
People have asked me whether I’ll take up the sport when I pack up playing football but I think it will always be
a hobby, simply because of the costs involved. The Class One budgets are not that far off Formula One, but I wouldn’t rule out racing in a lower class.
I met world powerboat champion Steve Curtis at the Southampton Boat Show. He’s an absolute legend and he invited me out onto the water, so that would be a start. But for now, I’m not really thinking that far head; my only concern is getting Saints back in the Premiership before I retire. Then I can start to think about what I’m going to do in the future.”
From the February 2007 issue of FFT