It was another light finish for Leg 3 of The Ocean Race Europe. In contrast to the predominantly breezy conditions the crews experienced on the first two legs the weather forecast for leg three called for light winds throughout the 600-nautical mile (nm) / 1,100-kilometre (km) passage to Genova.
A close leaderboard at leg 3 start
The points spread among the top three teams in both the VO65 and IMOCA 60 classes could not be closer as the fleet left Alicante for the final offshore stage.
In the seven-boat VO65 class Mirpuri Foundation Racing Team (POR) and AkzoNobel Ocean Racing (NED) started Leg 3 in first and second, tied on 11 points, with Sailing Team Poland (POL) in third, just one point behind.
Remarkably, the scores in the five-boat IMOCA 60 class were even tighter, with the top three teams – LinkedOut (FRA), Offshore Team Germany (GER) and 11th Hour Racing Team (USA) – all sitting on nine points.
With so much resting on the outcome of leg 3, the atmosphere on the pontoons in Alicante was understandably tense as the crews left for the final stage of the three-week event.
“It’s going to be tight all the way to the end,” said Thomas Ruyant, the skipper of LinkedOut, the nominal leader in IMOCA. “The race likely won’t even be decided on this leg, but on the coastal race in Genova.”
Which way to go?
Adding to the pressure, particularly for the skippers and navigators, was the uncertainty of the weather forecasts for the coming week. Even as the boats left the dock there was no clear indication of which side of the three Balearic Islands – Ibiza, Mallorca, and Minorca – the fleet should pass.
“There are options to the far right, the far left, even in the middle,” Ruyant continued. “It will be hard work for the navigation options for sure.”
“It’s going to be very tricky, there’s a big decision to make whether to go south or north of the Balearic Islands and when to cross a ridge of high pressure – that’s basically light winds – around Ibiza and Mallorca,” said Juan Vila.
“There could be some big splits north and south as the [weather] models keep changing their minds – one day they tell you to go north, the next day they tell you to go south. So we will just have to see what we get.”
Third-placed in the VO65s, Sailing Team Poland skipper Bouwe Bekking (NED) said his team were up for the challenge on a leg which he believed would not be decided until finish line in Genova.
Simon Fisher, the British navigator with the American 11th Hour Racing Team, said the IMOCA fleet would have to choose between trying to find gradient wind out to sea, or rely on picking up thermal winds closer to land.
“Do we use the gradient to try and make as much progress as possible, and then see what develops?” Fisher said. “Or do we commit early on to dealing with sea breezes and land breezes? That [the second option] is obviously going to be a messy and fairly long affair, battling up the coast.
Hugging the shore
The course for leg 3 took the fleet away from the start line off the Alicante city front, first upwind to the Alicante exit mark where the yachts bore away towards mark two, located off the nearby Tabarca Island. From there the crews were free to choose their own fastest routes north through the Mediterranean to Genova.
Conditions were near perfect with 8-12 knots of breeze and sunny skies as the VO65 class set off first at 1300 CEST / 1100 UTC, followed 20 minutes later by the five IMOCA 60s.
In the VO65s AkzoNobel Ocean Racing made the best of the first beat, taking an inshore route that saw them lead at the Alicante exit mark, with Mirpuri Foundation Sailing Team in second and Viva Mexico third.
In the IMOCA 60 class Robert Stanjek’s Offshore Team Germany (GER) took full advantage of their non-foiling configuration to rocket up the first beat to lead at the Alicante exit mark from 11th Hour Racing Team (USA), skippered by Charlie Enright, in second, and Louis Burton’s Bureau Vallée (FRA) in third.
But as soon as the foiling IMOCAs were able to hit their angle, and lift out of the water, the Germans were left behind. Stanjek and his crew can take solace in the fact that light, upwind conditions are forecast to return soon.
The final points scoring opportunity of The Ocean Race Europe will be a coastal sprint race in Genova scheduled to take place on Saturday June 19 when bonus points will be awarded to the top three finishers in each class.
With the leaderboard so close, it is likely this coastal race will be decisive in determining the winners of the inaugural edition of The Ocean Race Europe.
Mirpuri Foundation Racing Team clinch victory
AkzoNobel Ocean Racing takes second as the top two finishers in the VO65 fleet come from behind to secure critical points.
The third and final offshore leg of The Ocean Race Europe came to an exciting conclusion in the early hours of Thursday morning in Genova, when the Portuguese entry Mirpuri Foundation Racing Team pulled off a come-from-behind victory in the VO65 class.
It was pitch black in Genova when the Portuguese team, led by eminent French offshore skipper Yoann Richomme, finished the 600 nautical-mile (nm) / 1100-kilometre Mediterranean leg from Alicante, Spain at 00:51:57 local time, after around three and a half days of racing – predominantly in light and fickle winds – since leaving Alicante on Sunday.
Hours earlier Richomme’s crew had been in third place, 10nm/12km behind the long-time fleet leader Sailing Poland (POL), skippered by Bouwe Bekking (NED), and four nautical miles adrift of the second placed Netherlands entry Team Childhood I, led by Dutchman Simeon Tienpont.
A bold decision
Sensing that the breeze along the Italian coast would fade away as night fell, the Portuguese team made the bold decision to tack away from the fleet in search of new wind further offshore. It was a move that looked risky initially, especially given that their heading initially appeared to be taking them away from the finish line.
Ultimately though the gambit paid huge dividends as they were eventually able to tack back towards Genova in the best breeze of the evening, and within a couple of hours had leapfrogged themselves into the lead.
“What a comeback!” Richomme exclaimed shortly after the finish. “A crazy, crazy leg – it felt like two weeks of sailing. We fought hard. We knew that until the finish it wouldn’t be over because Genova is complicated. It’s more of a game of chess in these conditions than proper sailing.
“The crew was amazing, we kept on fighting all the way, very calm. Team Poland moved into the lead with a tiny move near Mallorca and we thought we would never get them back. But we knew there was a little move to do in the Gulf of Genoa. We knew it was the favoured side, but then all the others kept on moving inside the bay – we thought it wasn’t going to happen for us and then suddenly things turned”.
“We knew we were in the right position, but we didn’t expect to overtake Team Poland and win it – we thought we would be fighting for second.”
Another team benefits
Chris Nicholson’s AkzoNobel Ocean Racing was in fifth place before heading offshore in parallel with Mirpuri Foundation Racing Team, but soon moved up to second as the new breeze brought them powering in from the southeast at speeds over 13 knots, overtaking Erik Brockmann’s Viva Mexico (MEX), Team Childhood I, and Sailing Poland to take second place.
“This was a big relief,” Nicholson said moments after stepping off the AkzoNobel boat. “We got ourselves behind early on in this leg and when that happens all you hope for is another chance. Fortunately, there was plenty of opportunity to be had today and we grabbed hold of several of them.There was plenty of thought that went into it. Our routing and everything we had told us to go the way we did go. But sailor’s instinct would have sent us closer to the shore. For once, I listened to the science, and in the end we chose what we thought had the best chance of success.”
In contrast to the excitement aboard the first two finishers, there will be disappointment for the Sailing Poland crew who had led the VO65s since early in the leg, but as a result of the late-stage re-shuffle appear dropping back to third place.
The overall winner decider
Mirpuri Foundation Racing Team consolidates its position at the top of the leader board on 18 points, with AkzoNobel Ocean Racing second on 17 points.
This sets up Saturday’s final coastal race – where points will be awarded to the top three teams only (3 points for a win, 2 points for second, 1 point for third) – as a showdown to decide the overall VO65 class standings in the inaugural edition of The Ocean Race Europe.
Surprising win in the IMOCA fleet
Offshore Team Germany – the non-foiling IMOCA 60 skippered by German Olympian Robert Stanjek – has pulled off a spectacular victory in the third and final offshore leg of The Ocean Race Europe.
After almost four days of racing since leaving Alicante, Spain on Sunday afternoon the German team arrived in Genova, Italy at 0936 UTC / 1136 CEST on 17 June, having taken full advantage of their yacht’s superior light wind performance compared to the four other foil-equipped entries.
Stanjek and his crew – navigator Benjamin Dutreux (FRA), Annie Lush (GBR), Phillip Kasüske (GER), and onboard reporter Felix Diemer (GER) – made an early split away from the rest of the fleet when they headed north soon after leaving Alicante.
At the same time, the four foiling IMOCAs – Charlie Enright’s 11th Hour Racing Team (USA), Louis Burton’s Bureau Vallée (FRA), Nicolas Troussel’s CORUM L’Épargne (FRA), and Thomas Ruyant’s LinkedOut (FRA) – elected to stay closely grouped on a more south-easterly route over the first 48 hours.
Despite some slowdowns in the light and patchy winds around the Balearic Islands, Offshore Team Germany were mostly able to make steady progress along the 600-nautical mile (nm) / 1100-kilometre (km) course and at one point had opened up a close to 100nm/185km lead over the chasing pack.
That lead was eroded considerably in the last 36 hours as the foilers found some stronger breeze that allowed them to sail closer to their true potential, but when the German entry crossed the line in the Gulf of Genova this morning the chasing pack was still over 20nm/37km away.
“Actually, it was not our plan to escape from the fleet, but sometimes things turn out a bit different than your plan it,” Stanjek said. “All our routings were north of the Balearics and so this was, for us, a clear call – and I thought some other teams would decide the same. We climbed up the Spanish coastline north and then we found a lane offshore with good pressure, and all of a sudden we lifted from the fleet like crazy. Within five or six hours the split was so massive and for us it was a gift. Since that moment, we were aware that we have to sail our own race because the difference between the fleet and us was already 50 miles”.
It’s more than the hardware
“But this race was about so much more than the hardware,” Stanjek said. “I think one of the key factors to me was Benjamin [Dutreux] in this race. He’s a very good navigator, very clear and tough strategist. I think we both worked well together. It was probably me doing a little bit more the risk management on his advice – but he did a great, great job. And the whole team also stayed focused and awake. We had difficult parts in the race where everyone closed in, and we had no breeze at all. Sailing upwind in an IMOCA in three knots is not really fun”.
“This is just the start of let’s call it a second career. I’m not a standard offshore sailor. I’ve raced in the Olympic classes for a long, long time. But after the Olympics, I started to enjoy offshore sailing. So I hope this race will bring us closer to the start to the next Ocean Race. I can’t actually wait to to get to the starting line.”
A good performance
Second place in the IMOCAs went to the blue hulled LinkedOut, whose skipper Thomas Ruyant had been downbeat before the leg about his boat’s chances of performing well in the forecast ultra-light wind passage.
Nevertheless, Ruyant’s crew, who led the fleet offshore last night in search of more wind, were today able to overhaul the American 11th Hour Racing Team in a drag race on the approach to Genova.
As the wind dropped away closer to shore LinkedOut slipped across the leg three finish line at a sedate seven knots with 11th Hour Racing Team completing the IMOCA podium places just minutes later.
The points awarded to the top three IMOCA finishers in this leg mean that each of Germany, LinkedOut and 11th Hour Racing Team will have an opportunity to win The Ocean Race Europe with the right result in the Coastal Race on Saturday (see below).
CORUM L’Epargne finished in fourth place followed by Bureau Vallée in fifth place.