Flotte Imoca The Ocean Race

The Ocean Race: lessons learned from an XXL leg

Finishing up with Team Malizia’s victory ahead of Team Holcim-PRB, the third leg of The Ocean Race was full of twists and turns, a giant stage – the longest ever-lasting more than 35 days. Meteo ace Christian Dumard, Imoca skippers Charlie Dalin and Thomas Ruyant, designers Quentin Lucet (VPLP Design) and Hervé Penfornis (Guillaume Verdier), Antoine Mermod, president of Imoca, as well as The Ocean Race director Johan Salén, speak to Tip and Shaft to give us their first assessment.

The Indian and Pacific in one shot. The Big South has probably never felt so long during The Ocean Race than this time. It is the first time since 1973 that crews have raced half a round-the-world on a single leg (12,750 miles compared to a normal Vendée Globe at 24,365). It was a true XXL leg from a sporting angle too, as it offered maximum five points twice, once at the passage of the scoring gate of Tasmania and again at the finish. Overall it was a real proving ground for the new Imocas“Everyone was a bit apprehensive” suggests Hervé Penfornis. “We had kind of imagined stopovers in Australia or New Zealand. But apart from Guyot, the boats were generally solid and in the end, it ended up in a postage stamp between the first two. It was great !” 

And that satisfaction is shared by Johan Salén: “Leaving Cape Town, we were probably more uncertain than we were actually worried, but it’s true that we had positioned the New Zealand gate far enough west for a boat to be able to get their points and then possibly make a stopover afterwards.” This precaution was not necessary, even if no participant were actually spared damage: the cut in the mast on Malizia-Seaexplorer, damage to the two rudders and torn mainsail on board 11th Hour Racing Team, pilot problems on Holcim-PRB, hitting an Ofni for Biotherm

But all were able to make repairs, which has Charlie Dalin commenting: “They push more, they break more, but then they repair much faster! Changing a batten solo is almost a day’s work with the fatigue that follows. With a crew, it’s a few hours, barely noticeable on the tracking.”



The only abandon on this leg was Guyot Environnement-Team Europe, victim of significant damage to the bottom of their hull on the fourth day. That damage was not a big surprise according to the designers of the VPLP-Verdier design launched in 2015, that is before the Imoca rule was amended to ban honeycomb core in this area. “All the recommended reinforcements were not followed when 11th Hour had the boat [previous owner of VPLP-Verdier, ex Hugo Boss, editor’s note], and on selling the boat, the need must have been lost along the way”, estimates Quentin Lucet. And Penfornis adds:  All the 2016 generation Imocas that opt for large foils are on borrowed time if they don’t replace the nomex with foam. It costs, say, a hundred kilos, which is not very penalizing for a flying boat.”

Leaving Cape Town on February 26 after a memorable coastal course in gusts of 40 knots, this stage experienced “muscular moments but never race ending conditions”, according to Christian Dumard, meteorologist for the organization. The first few days allowed Holcim-PRB to get away quickly, to the point of being up to 600 miles in advance to finally be caught by their rivals.

“They stumbled into a system, but they managed their race. They took the points halfway through, aware that there were valuable points there and not just in Itajai” said Charlie Dalin. “If they had pushed more, they would have got themselves really into very hard conditions, so they managed it intelligently”, adds Dumard. Even that meant experiencing a kind of new start for the four boats to the south of New Zealand. This game of elastic has Thomas Ruyant saying: “On a transatlantic race when you lead by 40 miles you’re happy. In the South, you play with macro weather. Sometimes hundreds of miles are not enough.”

Malizia impresses


And so there was a match that actually allows some real comparison between the boats. Downwind in the breeze, all our experts agree that Malizia-Seaexplorer, clearly designed with this in mind, has an advantage. All the choices that have been made with a view to the South are working,” says a pleased Quentin Lucet. “The distribution volumes through the hull give an ability to keep the boat pitched up with a good balance in heavy swells.” 

This “very healthy” dynamic behaviour, according to the architect, is seen in the drone images of the boat surfing the swell, resting on its two foils, which seems to be a new thing in Imoca. “And they still raced 12,000 miles far from everything with a sticking plaster on the mast, a first aid repair made at sea”, Penfornis adds.

In the lead at Cape Horn going on to win thanks to a final big bout of strong winds off Argentina, Malizia-Seaexplorer was not as good in the lighter stuff and at reaching angles, making Charlie Dalin say that Holcim-PRB “is the most versatile boat in the fleet”Kevin Escoffier’s Verdier design returned to the Atlantic with a new 24-hour record in its pocket: 595 miles 56 more than the previous one! A performance that made an impression, to the point that the symbolic barrier of 600 miles now seems accessible. “And why not the 618 miles of Comanche [absolute record in a monohull NDR], achieved on the return from a transatlantic race with the help of the Gulf Stream?” asks Christian Dumard.

Although 11th Hour Racing Team and Biotherm, third and fourth in the stage, arrived three days after the first two, they were in the match, in contact almost until Cape Horn, which prompts Johan Salén to say: “The winner of the last Vendée Globe sailed at 65% of the boat’s potential. Here they are still between 90 and 100% of the polars, so the differences are small. The youngest by age, Biotherm, the last competitor was launched latest (September 2022), and their foil damage “logically” saw them bring up the rear. The question, Christian Dumard asks is the performance of 11th Hour Racing Team“which has bet everything on The Ocean Race for two years”.

They were the only absentee from the Route du Rhum, did the Verdier plan lack hard racing before the start of The Ocean Race? For Hervé Penfornis, “their potential is really very close to that of Holcim-PRB, it comes down to the crew and the ability to keep the boat intact.” Charlie Dalin, who worked closely with the American team within MerConcept , also recognizes that he expected them “to be a little above the rest but even so they are still capable of special things.”

Four more stages 


And a new race is on in Itajai, that of the job-lists. The Biotherm team has already said that theirs of “200 lines” can’t be done themseleves by April 23, the date of the start of the leg to Newport. Malizia-Seaexplorer’s mast will be repaired internally, on the recommendation of the manufacturer, Lorima, and all the spars have been ultrasonic tested because we consider this to be the most sensitive item”, explains Antoine Mermod from Itajai, “This is a recommendation from the class. The teams then choose whether or not to have the hulls and their appendages inspected.” 

In the general classification, Team Holcim-PRB, has 19 points, 5 points ahead of Team Malizia, which now holds second place from 11th Hour Racing Team by one point. Note that there are 25 points left from the four stages, the fifth between Newport and Aarhus counts double.

Behind these arithmetical aspects, everyone agrees that The Ocean Race has cleared the first big hurdle, bringing an entire fleet back to the Atlantic for this first race in the Imoca. True to its marketing the race showcased the resilience of the crews. “Certain damages out there could not have been fixed solo but above all, the crews obviously enjoyed themselves. This human side is the most beautiful surprise, says Johan Salén about this stage which made some sailors envious, if we believe Thomas Ruyant: “When I watched the videos, I wanted to be out there with them! I am very attached to the solo racing, but I do not exclude the idea of next one. They showed that the format works and even if it’s a bit early just now we will look at it.” 

Photo: Sailing Energy

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