Blame The Ocean Race for this problem

Published on June 15th, 2023

by Craig Leweck, Scuttlebutt Sailing News
When The Ocean Race 2023 turned to the 60-foot IMOCA to rescue the 14th edition of the crewed round the world race, they hoped this offshore thoroughbred would inject needed excitement. But the event organizers disregarded that there are ‘horses for courses’.

The precedent of parade laps at the start of each offshore leg was not what these high-flying, indoor-sailed, side-foiled machines do well. And when you have just five entrants, getting all teams to the final finish line is needed to maximize interest.

Back in January, with strong winds at the start of Leg 1, the IMOCA teams were nursing their boats around the course. As I wrote at the time, the buoy section of the offshore legs “might have been a good idea with the Volvo 70s, but the IMOCAs are designed to go fast and straight. They are not set-up for turns, the teams are scared to break their boats, and the event should be too.”

For the buoy section after the start of Leg 3, both Biotherm and 11th Hour Racing incurred damage that required they suspend racing to make repairs. Biotherm elected to fix their mainsheet system in port while 11th Hour Racing remained at sea to fix problems with their battens. Fortunately, both teams returned to racing

However, my greatest fear was realized at the start of Leg 7 when 11th Hour Racing Team, on an upwind starboard course, was rammed by GUYOT environnement – Team Europe on port tack. Both boats incurred significant damage, reducing the field now to three boats.

There aren’t any spectator boats for the parade laps, not that any could keep up with the IMOCAs at full speed, so this is just about extending the broadcast and keeping people in the event village. In other words, this is about money, and watching boats that lack sufficient visibility and maneuverability rounding buoys in close proximity can be dangerous… and it was.

Luckily, the collision wasn’t any worse as Matt Ciesicki observed: “If Guyot had successfully ducked and managed to avoid hull-to-hull contact – one shudders at the thought of Guyot’s port tack foil strafing 11th Hour’s pod and cockpit…that could have been deadly.”

But not everyone agrees with my opinion of the IMOCAs unsuitability for buoy racing: “It’s part of the race that every skipper and crew knew about before the race,” said Nick Cumbie. “If they didn’t build/modify a boat for that it’s on them. How much money do you think they really make by having a slightly longer broadcast? What it does do is give all us a longer time to watch the boats before they take off not to be seen for weeks.”

Maybe so, or maybe it is about a more suitable course for the IMOCAs. “Blame The Ocean Race for the stupidest inshore race course in history,” shared Ryan Breymaier. “That’s the real tragedy of the inshore races.”

Like I said … horses for courses.

IMOCA – Leg 7 Rankings on June 15 at 20:25 UTC
1. Team Malizia, distance to finish, 2127.1 nm
2. Biotherm, distance to lead, 1.2 nm
3. Holcim-PRB, distance to lead, 2.5 nm
Suspended racing – 11th Hour Racing Team
Retired – GUYOT environnement

Race detailsRouteTrackerScoreboardContent from the boatsYouTube

IMOCA Overall Leaderboard (after 6 of 7 legs)
1. 11th Hour Racing Team — 33 points
2. Team Holcim-PRB — 31 points
3. Team Malizia — 27 points
4. Biotherm — 19 points
5. GUYOT environnement – Team Europe — 2 points

VO65 Overall Leaderboard (after 2 of 3 legs):
1. WindWhisper Racing Team — 12 points
2. Team JAJO — 9 points
3. Austrian Ocean Racing powered by Team Genova — 7 points
4. Mirpuri/Trifork Racing Team — 5 points
5. Viva México — 4 points
6. Ambersail 2 — 3 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.

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