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The Ocean Race: Start your engines

Published on March 3rd, 2023

(March 3, 2023; Day 6) – All four boats racing the Ocean Race on Leg 3 to Itajai are finally making speed as the wind returns to Roaring 40s. It is still a far cry from traditional Roaring 40s weather, but at least one critical element has returned – the wind.

Biotherm, 11th Hour Racing Team and Team Malizia are all finally on the move after a frustrating period of unusually light, warm, and calm conditions.

While the unusual weather suited Team Malizia as they worked through the day and into the night on Wednesday to repair their damaged mast, it was received far less well by the sailors on Biotherm and 11th Hour Racing Team who could only watch as Leg leading Team Holcim – PRB raced away from them, one full weather system ahead.

“We are moving again, after 24 hours in the high pressure system,” said Biotherm skipper Paul Meilhat. “Now, it’s ‘let’s go’. It’s still not very windy, but much better than before. We are happy to be going faster with the boat and not listening to the flapping of the sails. It’s good!!”

It has turned out relatively well for Biotherm, who have converted a trailing position to the south into a second place on the leaderboard, by virtue of getting into the new wind ahead of 11th Hour Racing Team.

In fact, the American team has found misfortune over the past couple of days. Ensnared in a high pressure bubble of near calm winds, Charlie Enright’s team has even made miles to the west – away from finish – in an effort to get into the new breeze.

As of this afternoon UTC, they are back, moving at 20 knots through the water, but still struggling to turn in a more favorable direction as the calms remain in their path. But media crewman Amory Ross writes the team is just happy to be moving again, “With one final gybe to the south this morning it feels like we’ve finally escaped the clutches of the high. We have 10 knots on the water and 15 knots at the top of the rig and while we may be heading southwest, at least we’re making progress towards the new wind.

“In the end the high did roll us and we did drift around for the better part of 12 hours; all somewhat foreseeable after we fell off the back of the low. What’s also foreseeable, and you can already see happening, is the new wind filling from the west will first aid Biotherm and then Malizia before it finally reaches us. C’est la vie.”

All in all a tough opening week for the American team, but with 30+ days of racing remaining, plenty of time to turn things around.

For Team Malizia, the news is positive. Repairs appear to have gone as well as they could have hoped and the team is moving at speed again, if still a little bit cautiously as they allow as much time as possible for the resins to ‘cook’ or cure in the repair at the top of the mast. But the prognosis is positive.

“I am so happy, we are back sailing, the workshop is cleaned away and most things are fixed on board,” was the message from skipper Boris Herrmann on Friday afternoon. “I feel so ready for the next part of this race, it fills me with energy to think about what we have just achieved across the whole team and I am ready to go for the rest of this Leg! The race is still on, we aren’t far from 11th Hour and Biotherm and the race is still long!”

At the head of the fleet, it’s also all positive for Team Holcim – PRB. The opening five days could hardly have gone better, as skipper Kevin Escoffier sits nearly 600 miles ahead of his closest competitor.

“We will stay in this low pressure system – like four or five days – and afterwards it will be different and we will have some gybes to do and not a straight line, like today,” Tom Laperche said from on board the leader.

“And yes, behind us they have fallen into the high pressure and they have a lot of light wind over the next two days, but our routing is not very clear for the next week, so I don’t know if they can come back or not.”

That is the flip side of such a commanding lead – it can be difficult to cover your opponents from 600 miles away. But this is a good problem to have.

Racing back to Cape Town, GUYOT environnement – Team Europe is about 250 miles from a weekend arrival at the V&A Waterfront, where everything is prepared and ready for a significant repair operation.

Thomas Cardrin is the head of the Tech Team of GUYOT environnement – Team Europe: “Workshop and storage containers were brought back and the work area prepared. The cradles are back, the RIB has to be back in the water, the big fenders are ready.

“We have made a lot of phone calls to order all the equipment we need to repair the damaged area – carbon fibre, resins, etc. To do this, we need to check how to reinforce the starboard side, which has not been affected so far, for the next Legs. We need to prevent the damage from occurring on the other side as well.

“The expected arrival of the yacht is on Saturday afternoon, maybe in the evening. We will prep the mast for Sunday. Sunday midday we should be able to take off the mast, put the boat on the cradle out of the water, wash it and inspect it. By Monday morning the plan for the repairs will be in place and we will start working.”

Looking at the continuation of the race, Thomas Cardrin sees a range of possibilities: “The best option is that we repair very quickly and the yacht can start again, so that it goes to Itajaí on the normal track, finishes the Leg around Cape Horn. The other option is to go directly to Itajaí to be there in time to get everything ready for the start of the fourth leg.”

The Australian-British sailor Jack Bouttell says Holcim PRB is a “weather-system” ahead of his own boat – 11th Hour Racing Team Mãlama – but he and his crewmates will be looking for opportunities to haul them back in, as the dramatic Leg 3 of The Ocean Race continues.

With Kevin Escoffier and his crew on Holcim-PRB still streaking ahead, on the top of a big low pressure system centered about 600 nautical miles to the southeast of them, Mãlama is now over 500 miles behind in second place.

That’s because the American boat, along with Paul Meilhat’s Biotherm and Boris Herrmann’s Team Malizia, have all fallen into a high pressure system that has left them battling light winds and a heavy swell. They are also having to sail a longer course, as they head south looking for more breeze.

“For sure Holcim are in a nice spot,” Bouttell told the Class from on board the boat that started the race as many people’s favourite for overall honours. “They will be able to sit on the back of the low pressure and extend their lead a good way. With the issues and slowdowns we had, we just fell off the back of the low and will now be forced to sail south and wait for the next system to catch up.

“In terms of looking forward, it is impossible to say how it’s going to go,” he added. “Holcim will be a weather system ahead, which is a nice place to be, but you never know. It doesn’t take much to re-group, so we’ll see how it turns out.”

The “issues” Bouttell referred to on board Mãlama included repairs to the “foil-down” lines. But Charlie Enright’s crew have escaped lightly compared to both Guyot environnement-Team Europe, which is returning to South Africa after structural failure, and Team Malizia whose crew have carried out extensive repairs to the top of their mast.

While Benjamin Dutreux and his bitterly disappointed crew on Guyot plot their return to the race in Itajai in Brazil – either by crossing the Atlantic or returning to the Southern Ocean after making repairs in Cape Town – we have seen extraordinary resourcefulness on Malizia.

Herrmann and his team initially concluded they had no option but to follow Guyot back to South Africa, when they discovered the extent of the damage to their rig when the halyard lock system failed. But then they set about solving a complex and demanding challenge, with the crew at sea and shore team working together to carry out repairs to the mast, with Will Harris working for hours at the top of the rig.

After nearly five days at sea, Malizia is now back in the race, albeit in fourth place, 572 miles behind Escoffier’s team on Holcim. On board the leading boat, we spoke to Southern Ocean debutante Tom Laperche, who talked about dealing with an entirely different set of conditions to the ones facing their pursuers.

“The atmosphere on board is pretty good,” said the 25-year-old 2022 Figaro winner. “But it is difficult with the sea state we have had for the past two days and for the next two days. We are in the north of the low pressure and we have some gusts and big waves, so it is very difficult to have an average speed and to preserve the boat. We are a bit tired – we have a long way to go and I hope, in the next few days, we will be in better shape.”

Given what has happened to both Guyot and Malizia, is the crew on Holcim, who also include British sailors Sam Goodchild and Abby Ehler, taking extra care with their own boat? “Before the start of this leg at Cape Town, we were very careful about the boat,” said Laperche. “We know that in this leg, the first goal is to finish and we often say that, but in this leg of this race, it is the most important element, so we don’t push a lot, we take care of the boat.”

The question now is how long Escoffier and his crew can hold onto the train that is taking them directly east…and fast. They are currently around 1,100 miles north of the Kerguelen Islands and 3,200 miles almost due west of Cape Leeuwin, on the southwest corner of Australia. Laperche is not sure what the answer to that question is.

“We will stay in this low pressure system – like four or five days – and afterwards it will be different and we will have some gybes to do and not a straight line, like today,” he said. “And yes, behind us they have fallen into the high pressure and they have a lot of light wind over the next two days, but our routing is not very clear for the next week, so I don’t know if they can come back or not.”

Back on Mãlama, Bouttell has been enjoying the legendary albatrosses, wheeling above the waves, which he says is a “pretty cool” sight, but you know that he and his fellow crewmates on their Guillaume Verdier-designed foiler would give anything to be where Holcim is right now.

Leg Three Rankings at 1600 UTC
1. Team Holcim-PRB, distance to finish, 11543.4 nm
2. 11th Hour Racing Team, distance to lead, 579.4 nm
3. Team Malizia, distance to lead, 636.7 nm
4. Biotherm, distance to lead, 644.7 nm

GUYOT environnement – Suspended racing

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 (1900 nm) start: January 15, 2023
Cabo Verde – ETA: January 22; Leg 2 (4600 nm) start: January 25
Cape Town, South Africa – ETA: February 9; Leg 3 (12750 nm) start: February 26
Itajaí, Brazil – ETA: April 1; Leg 4 (5500 nm) start: April 23
Newport, RI, USA – ETA: May 10; Leg 5 (3500 nm) start: May 21
Aarhus, Denmark – ETA: May 30; Leg 6 (800 nm) start: June 8
Kiel, Germany (Fly-By) – June 9
The Hague, The Netherlands – ETA: June 11; Leg 7 (2200 nm) 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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