Returning to The Ocean Race
Published on October 25th, 2022
It was the Volvo Ocean Race for 2017-18, but the pandemic has forced a long delay before the newly branded The Ocean Race begins from Alicante, Spain on January 15, 2023. The entry list is not yet final, and there’s a good chance it will be missing many of the widely known names of the past.
But the race won’t be lacking elite sailors… we just need to meet them, and in this report it provides insight in what it takes to raise funding to compete in the new IMOCA division:
Kevin Escoffier has been moving at a frenetic pace since this August when the 42-year-old French yachtsman confirmed his return to The Ocean Race for the third time.
Escoffier had originally planned his campaign around competing singlehanded in the Vendée Globe 2024, but when his commercial partner – the French building products company PRB – was purchased by the Swiss multinational organization Holcim, the opportunity to add The Ocean Race to his schedule presented itself.
Holcim was already committed to promoting its sustainability message around the world and had funded Circular Explorer – a 100 percent solar-powered catamaran in the Philippines designed to recover and recycle plastic from the world’s oceans and rivers.
The company quickly recognized the potential for PRB’s partnership with Escoffier – part of the French organization’s 30-year commitment to sailing and ocean racing in particular – to help amplify their circular economy messaging via an entry in The Ocean Race 2022-23.
“They have a strong passion for their cause and they believe – like me – that racing around the world is a very good way to motivate people and to communicate a message,” Escoffier said.
“We have named our sailing project GO CIRCULAR. That fits perfectly with the two big races I will do in the next three years: The Ocean Race and the Vendée Globe – both around-the-world.”
Having been a part of the winning Dongfeng Race Team in The Ocean Race 2017-18 – a victory that came after he placed third with the same team in the 2014-15 edition – Escoffier believes he knows a few things about taking on the challenge of racing fully-crewed around the world.
“The decision to take part in The Ocean Race happened a little over two and a half months ago. There has been a lot of logistics involved in preparing the boat and the whole team has been involved in the process and we have had to grow in order to do everything properly.”
Although the Holcim – PRB entry is a late one Escoffier was clear that he and the rest of the team had high expectations for his third tilt at the world’s toughest fully-crewed offshore yacht race.
“I am not going into this race to watch the other boats sailing around the world – I want to perform,” he confirmed.
Newly branded in its blue and green GO CIRCULAR livery the Holcim – PRB IMOCA was originally commissioned and part-built for an early American-backed campaign which ultimately did not come to fruition.
PRB bought the Guillaume Verdier designed-boat from the Carrington Boats yard in England and shipped across the Channel to the French team’s base in Lorient for completion.
Taking this route rather than building a boat from scratch saved significant amounts of both time and money, Escoffier said. But the French skipper also took the chance to apply his own composite engineering expertise – accumulated during his time at university in Quebec, Canada and in Maryland, USA – into the complex ocean racing yacht.
He oversaw a 4.8-metre modification to the bow to make the boat easier to sail downwind in big seas, as well as being hands on during the installation of the yacht’s hardware, and hydraulic and electronic systems.
“I like to know and understand the boat that I am sailing on. I think you are a better sailor if you are a good engineer and you understand how the boat is built.
“Not just in terms of reliability – but also from a performance aspect: the angle of attack of the foil, why we chose the radius of that particular shaft, or the precise position of the foil.”
That level of understanding of the boat has given Escoffier confidence in being able to push it to its full potential performance out on the open ocean.
“Understanding all that makes it easier to learn, maybe not how to go faster than the others, but at least as fast as them. Then the last percentage is about work.”
Although Escoffier is yet to race the boat in fully-crewed configuration – its only competitive outing being at the recent Défi Azimut in Lorient, France where, solo, he finished a creditable fifth in the 48-hour offshore race – he believes it will be a good all round performer in The Ocean Race.
“I wanted this to be an all-purpose boat. The goal is to have a steady average speed across all points of sail: downwind, reaching and upwind. Maybe we won’t have the highest top speed – but I don’t care about that, I care about high average speed.
“I think it’s a boat that can be quick easily and that is very important now that we are not nine or ten on board. With just four sailors in the crew that means normally two on deck and so you need a boat that is easy to handle and easy to trim.”
Although his focus in recent years has been on solo sailing – he took on his first Vendée Globe in the last edition but was forced out when his boat broke up in the Southern Ocean and he spent 11 and a half hours in a liferaft before being rescued by fellow French competitor Jean Le Cam – Escoffier has an admirable track record in fully-crewed ocean racing.
As well as his two previous podium finishes in The Ocean Race, in 2012 he was part of Loïck Peyron’s 14-strong crew aboard the maxi-trimaran Banque Populaire V which won the Jules Verne Trophy for the then fastest non-stop lap of the planet.
Although he is yet to reveal the sailing team line-up for The Ocean Race – that announcement is scheduled to be made before he sets off solo on the Route du Rhum transatlantic race on November 6 – Escoffier said he was looking forward to racing with a full crew again.
“Racing fully-crewed gives you the opportunity to push the boat at 100 percent. Singlehanded sailing is more about how to ‘optimize a compromise’. You know you will never be at 100 percent of the boat’s performance because you have to sleep, eat, and do other things on the boat.”
“I like to find out about people – how they think, what are their personalities – and then figure out how to get everyone working towards the same goal.
“I have raced around the world with 14 people and in the last edition of The Ocean Race we were nine. There was always very little friction because everyone has that one goal that they are pushing for to achieve.
“That feeling is just amazing and is the reason I wanted to come back to The Ocean Race.”
The Ocean Race 2022-23 Race Schedule*:
Alicante, Spain – Leg 1 start: January 15, 2023
Cabo Verde – ETA: January 22; Leg 2 start: January 25
Cape Town, South Africa – ETA: February 9; Leg 3 start: February 26 or 27 (TBC)
Itajaí, Brazil – ETA: April 1; Leg 4 start: April 23
Newport, RI, USA – ETA: May 10; Leg 5 start: May 21
Aarhus, Denmark – ETA: May 30; Leg 6 start: June 8
Kiel, Germany (Fly-By) – June 9
The Hague, The Netherlands – ETA: June 11; Leg 7 start: June 15
Genova, Italy – The Grand Finale – ETA: June 25, 2023; Final In-Port Race: July 1, 2023
* To be confirmed – Prologue: September to December 2022
The Ocean Race (formerly Volvo Ocean Race and Whitbread Round the World Race) will be raced in two classes of boats: the high-performance, foiling, IMOCA 60 class and the one-design VO65 class which has been used for the last two editions of the race. Entries in the IMOCA 60 class will compete for The Ocean Race trophy, while those racing the VO65s will chase the Ocean Challenge Trophy. The 14th edition was originally planned for 2021-22 but was postponed one year due to the pandemic.
Source: The Ocean Race