The Ocean Race escapes the Med

Published on January 17th, 2023

(January 17, 2023; Day 3) – The first leg of The Ocean Race had the fleet searching for calmer waters as they sought to exit the Mediterranean Sea, heading towards the Spanish coastline to avoid the worst of the brutal offshore breeze and sea state before breaking through the Strait of Gibraltar and out into the Atlantic.

For the IMOCA fleet in particular, each tack along the shoreline brought the risk of damage, yet on the other hand, reducing the number of tacks and taking longer legs in between would take them further out into stronger winds and bigger waves.

Striking the correct balance was hard as leader 11th Hour Racing Team and their closest competitor, Holcim-PRB, were locked in a tacking duel.

But during a particularly windy tack in 45 knots or so, 11th Hour Racing Team dragged the J3 headsail across the radar dome tearing it from leech to luff. The switch to the storm jib up led to the loss of their lead.

Arriving at the Strait first at 0400 UTC provided the upper hand for Team Holcim-PRB, weather forecasts and passage analysis suggested the the front runners might benefit from taking a more northerly route before they locked into the northerly breeze that would provide the first part of the slingshot south to Cabo Verde.

So the duo oddly sailed away from the finish before tacking for the southerly course toward the finish.

For Holcim-PRB, they also incurred some damage to their mainsail which had been torn close to the luff after the clew of the jib had punched through the sail during a tack. Fortunately, the ‘slightly’ more settled conditions in the Atlantic provided an opportunity for repair.

Interestingly, the teams that exited the Strait later may be able to capitalize on a shift in the breeze and turn south earlier.

While this may offer a potential reprieve to those towards the back of the IMOCA fleet, the benefits of this shifting breeze may well be more significant for the VO65s.

Leading the field in this class was WindWhisper Racing Team whose tactically smart yet conservative approach has paid off.

On the leaderboard Mirpuri Foundation Racing Team is lying in fourth but their passage through the Strait appears to show them sail into the Traffic Separation Scheme (TSS) exclusion zone, contrary to the sailing instructions. Race Control is looking at the situation and may forward their track to the Jury for assessment and a possible penalty.

Just in front of them, Austrian Ocean Racing powered by Team Genova lay in second place with Team JAJO third and AmberSail 2 right behind in fifth.

“We are just about to exit the Gibraltar Strait,” came the message from Rokas Milevičius, skipper on Ambersail 2. “It has been an intense few days and nights. The team is really looking forward to some Atlantic running, because this upwind in 30-50 knot is not much fun. Wet. Cold. And bumpy. But we suppose that is how it is supposed to be.”

As the fleet passed through Viva México were still in Almeria after suspending their racing following damage to their mainsail. The team is working to rejoin the race as soon as possible but is pinned in at the port with winds near 40 knots and a heavy sea state.

So, while getting through the Gibraltar Strait was a tactical challenge for all, there is clearly more to come as the two fleets prepare to take on the second stage of Leg 1.

Current ETAs show the leading IMOCAs arriving late on January 20 (local time), with the VO65s less than 24 hours behind.

Rankings at 1600 GMT

1. Team Holcim-PRB, 1465.4 miles to finish
2. 11th Hour Racing Team, 24.6 miles to leader
3. Team Malizia, 46.0 miles to leader
4. Biotherm, 54.9 miles to leader
5. GUYOT environnement – Team Europe, 61.3 miles to leader

1. WindWhisper Racing, 1509.1 miles to finish
2. Austrian Ocean Race – Team Genova, 6.5 miles to leader
3. Team JAJO, 9.8 miles to leader
4. Mirpuri Foundation Race Team, 9.9 miles to leader
5. Ambersail 2, 21.2 miles to leader
6. Viva Mexico, suspended racing, 194.5 miles to leader

Race detailsRouteTrackerTeamsContent from the boatsYouTube

IMOCA: Boat, Design, Skipper, Launch date
• Guyot Environnement – Team Europe (VPLP Verdier); Benjamin Dutreux (FRA)/Robert Stanjek (GER); September 1, 2015
• 11th Hour Racing Team (Guillaume Verdier); Charlie Enright (USA); August 24, 2021
• Holcim-PRB (Guillaume Verdier); Kevin Escoffier (FRA); May 8, 2022
• Team Malizia (VPLP); Boris Herrmann (GER); July 19, 2022
• Biotherm (Guillaume Verdier); Paul Meilhat (FRA); August 31 2022

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

The Ocean Race (formerly Volvo Ocean Race and Whitbread Round the World Race) was initially to 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.

However, only the IMOCAs will be racing round the world while the VO65s will race in The Ocean Race VO65 Sprint which competes in Legs 1, 6, and 7 of The Ocean Race course.

Additionally, The Ocean Race also features the In-Port Series with races at seven of the course’s stopover cities around the world which allow local fans to get up close and personal to the teams as they battle it out around a short inshore course.

Although in-port races do not count towards a team’s overall points score, they do play an important part in the overall rankings as the In-Port Race Series standings are used to break any points ties that occur during the race around the world.

The 14th edition of The Ocean Race was originally planned for 2021-22 but was postponed one year due to the pandemic, with the first leg starting on January 15, 2023.

Source: The Ocean Race

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