Halftime for The Ocean Race 2023

Published on May 11th, 2023

The Ocean Race 2023 has completed four of the seven legs, and the five IMOCA teams are showing their scars. The recent leg had three finishers in Newport, while two others are fighting logistics due to their dismastings on April 27 and May 9.

The next leg to Denmark starts on May 21, and while the field may be thinned, the top three teams on the leaderboard will be within one point. In this report by Ed Gorman for the International Monohull Open Class Association, he assesses this fleet of mostly new 60-footers after the fourth leg from Brazil to USA:

For much of the time the boats and their highly focused and motivated crews were in sight of each other – either out of the window or within VHF hailing distance. And the lead changed hands on a regular basis, as the navigators and trimmers battled to find an edge in any given set of conditions.

In the end it was 11th Hour Racing’s Verdier-designed, skippered by Charlie Enright, that prevailed, its crew entering its hometown of Newport, Rhode Island to a hero’s welcome. But even at the finish the separation was only of the order of eight nautical miles, a margin over Will Harris’s team on the VPLP-designed Team Malizia that translated into 31 minutes on the clock.

This was an intriguing affair featuring two foilers with different performance characteristics. The formbook suggested Team Malizia – a proven winner in the Southern Ocean – would be too heavy and sluggish in medium winds to compete with the more nimble 11th Hour Racing. And certainly Enright was hoping his boat would have the edge once the race returned to the Atlantic.

But it didn’t work out like that during a battle that could have gone either way and during which the Team Malizia crew demonstrated that they have learnt how to make their boat go in just about any wind conditions, light or strong.

In Brazil Harris spoke about how they had learnt to sail with big heel angles in medium winds – stacking the movable weight in the leeward quarter – to generate speed in “semi-foiling mode” using a flat section of the hull. And this was no doubt one of the tools they used to keep pace with their American rivals on the long journey from Itajaí.

Enright was quick to acknowledge the improvement in his European rivals’ competitiveness across a range of conditions.

“I’m not surprised to see Malizia performing in any conditions. The boat is still new. They figured it out in the southern oceans and they also now have a new confidence. They thought before that their boat couldn’t do certain things, but now they can (get it going) in several more angles. We are not underestimating this boat for sure.”

Over on Team Malizia, navigator Nico Lunven described what the team, led overall by Boris Herrmann, has achieved as it has filled in the gaps on its performance curve since the beginning of the race. It makes for ominous reading for Team Malizia’s opponents with three legs still to come.

“We’re still looking for the levers on our boat,” Lunven said. “We realize that medium and light winds are not ideal conditions for our boat, but we still manage to survive in these conditions without losing too much, while keeping an advantage when the wind comes in.

“It’s exciting because we are still learning. We’re still digging to find the key to go even faster. But since Alicante, where we started with foils that we didn’t know at all, and today, we’ve come a long way in terms of knowledge and learning.”

Harris talked about the nip-and-tuck racing on the water in this last leg that featured trade wind sailing, a traverse of the Doldrums and then sustained winds of 40-50 knots and a horrendous sea-state in a storm in the Gulf Stream.

“It was a great fight with 11th Hour Racing Team – that’s exactly why we came to do this race. It’s that neck-and-neck racing in these awesome boats,” he said. “Every watch we were so motivated to catch up with them.

“And even when they got away from us a bit, and at the end of the leg, we knew we had some opportunities to keep fighting and to try to get ahead. That’s the way of the racing and they made no mistakes and they did a really good job.”

It was a great victory for Enright and his crew who had a torrid time in the southern oceans on Leg 3 and needed to establish their credentials as potential winners of this race, especially with overall leader Holcim-PRB out of the running this time after dismasting.

Veteran British navigator Simon Fisher summed up the relief for a team, that set sail from Alicante in January as many people’s favorites to win this race, in his own comments at the finish in Newport.

“I wish it had come a little sooner,” he said, “but a win here into our home town of Newport couldn’t be a better result. I’m ecstatic now. We had a difficult leg into Brazil, but the way the whole team rallied round in Itajai was impressive. Everyone worked so hard, were super-positive and optimistic, and everyone had the belief we could do it. It was just nice that we could follow through on the water.”

With only five boats at the start of the first Ocean Race to feature the IMOCA Class, there was always a risk of the race unwinding if several boats were forced out. While Kevin Escoffier and his team on Holcim-PRB are moving heaven and earth to re-start on time at Newport on May 21st, it looks as though Benjamin Dutreux and is ill-starred crew on Guyot Environnement-Team Europe will not be able to continue.

But even with four boats, this race is nicely set up as the crews prepare for a double-points sprint across the Atlantic and then the final European stages leading to the finish at Genoa in late June.

While Holcim-PRB retains its lead – by one point – 11th Hour Racing and Team Malizia are now tied in second place just a point behind, with the Americans ahead only on the inshore racing tie-breaker. Paul Meilhat and his Biotherm team remain in fourth place, five points adrift of the pair in second.

“The race is so close now – I think that’s what we can take from this result,” said Harris who has skippered Team Malizia, for two of the first four legs. “We are in a fight for the overall victory and we’ve got four more legs to go, so there are a lot more points available. That’s going to be something to play for.”

Enright is also relishing the battles ahead – a skipper who knows that winning The Ocean Race is often more about how good you are in the final stages, not the early ones.

“We are now one point off the lead, and there is everything to play for with lots of points still available. We are going well, and we’ve now shown that we can win. It’s just about taking it one leg at a time and getting the job done,” he said.

Leg Four Results
1. 11th Hour Racing Team, finished May 10 at 18:41:41 UTC (17d 02h 26min 41s)
2. Team Malizia, finished May 10 at 19:13:22 UTC (17d 02h 58min 22s)
3. Biotherm, finished May 11 at 12:04:38 UTC (17d 19h 49min 38s)
Retired – GUYOT environnement, (dismasted May 9)
Retired – Holcim-PRB, retired (dismasted April 27)

Race detailsRouteTrackerScoreboardContent from the boatsYouTube

Overall Leaderboard (after 4 of 7 legs)
1. Team Holcim-PRB — 19 points
2. 11th Hour Racing Team — 18 points
3. Team Malizia — 18 points
4. Biotherm — 13 points
5. GUYOT environnement – Team Europe — 2 points

IMOCA: Name, 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.

Held every three or four years since 1973, 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: IMOCA

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