Two years of the start, who are the possible teams for The Ocean Race?

Last week 11th Hour Racing confirmed their participation in The Ocean Race 2021-2022 with Charlie Enright and Mark Towill co-skippering the project. This actually makes the US team the first officially entered and funded team for this new iteration of the crewed race around the world. On the back of that news Tip & Shaft take stock of the other projects, IMOCAs and the VO65.

After two campaigns in the colors first of Alvimedica and then Vestas 11th Hour Racing, Charlie Enright / Mark Towil who are partners in the company 1 Degree, will compete for the third time in a raw on The Ocean Race (formerly the Volvo). They are to be supported by the US 11th Hour Racing sustainability group. The project is already in the starting blocks, as they have Alex Thomson’s former Hugo Boss, the VPLP-Verdier design which finished second on the last Vendée Globe. The boat will compete on the Azimut Challenge and then the Transat Jacques Vabre with Charlie Enright partnered by Pascal Bidégorry (see the list of entries for the Azimut Challenge). The official announcement for the TJV pairing is expected soon.

Damian Foxall, Irish round the world ace, is on the team also serving as ‘Sustainability Manager’ as he was with the team last time, and the news is expected soon that they will build an IMOCA specially designed for The Ocean Race to a Guillaume Verdier design. It will be built at CDK under the supervision of François Gabart’s MerConcept team. None of the parties who were contacted by Tip & Shaft would officially confirm but announcements are scheduled for next Thursday.

11th Hour Racing will be the first Imoca designed and built specifically for The Ocean Race. For Verdier, this is not the only project in progress for the 2021-2022 edition of the race: according to our information, he is also working on another Imoca on behalf of a project called “Switchback” in the offing for New Zealander Daryl Wislang, who won the last Volvo with Dongfeng Race Team, partnered by two Volvo Ocean Race winning navigators, Jules Salter (ex Ericsson/4/Abu Dhabi Team AkzoNobel), Pablo Arrante (ex Mapfre) and Simon Fisher (ex Abu Dhabi/Vestas 11th Hour). The project will be financed by the American businessman David Leuschen, founder of Riverstone, an investment fund specializing in energy, who also owns the Wally 100 Galateia, on which Daryl Wislang regularly sails. Asked by mail he told us, “I am keen on doing the next race but I can’t talk about what is happening at the moment.”

As for the other IMOCA projects, the most advanced to date is the one run by the Spaniard Xabi Fernandez (see our interview in January), who is hoping for the green light from Mapfre (for a budget that his team estimated at the end of last year to be between 20 and 25 million euros) to launch the build of a boat to be designed by Juan Kouyoumdjian.

Offshore Team Germany officially launched their TOR campaign on July 10 with Javier Sanso’s Owen Clarke designed ex-Acciona with German skipper Robert Stanjek. Initial investment, to launch the structure, buy and modify the boat is about 3 million euros, Jens Kuphal the manager of the German team tells us. He estimates the overall cost of the campaign (foils to be installed on the boat) is  8-10 million euros“. The team, who are looking for also includes the Brit Joff Brown (technical director, previously with Dee Caffari, Rich Wilson and Alex Thomson). On the Fastnet Race were the British sailor Annie Lush (formerly Team Brunel on the last Volvo) and the New Zealander Conrad Colman.

Also with a German skipper is Maliza and Boris Herrmann, who is also looking for partners to accompany him aboard his foiling 60 footer (formerly Edmond de Rothchild, a VPLP-Verdier design from 2015). In China, Dongfeng Race Team, winners of the last edition, will probably not start again but according to our information we are likely to see another new project in Chinese colors, which would likely buy or charter an existing 60 footer. Finally, The Mirpuri Foundation, already partners of a VO65 project for the Ocean Race 2021/2022 and whose boss, Paulo Mirpuri, has been seen in Lorient, and according to our information might be getting involved in an IMOCA project.

Australian Chris Nicholson (see our interview) and Nathalie Quéré, ex AkzoNobel, continue to work on a new campaign under the umbrella of their company created earlier this year, W Ocean Racing. Their choices  will be dictated by the budget set by the partners they find. As yet they have not yet settled between an IMOCA or VO65. They are currently on tour in Europe with The Ocean Race. “The options remain open,” confirms Nathalie Quéré, “We have joined forces with The Ocean Race for their European tour, which is a great platform to promote our ambitions and meet potential sponsors.” What about the chances of a possible new AkzoNobel campaign? “Any decision by AkzoNobel as to their possible participation in the next race is not really relevant at the moment,” says Quere.

In France, Paul Meilhat, who announced his registration in early July, has a four-year project looking to the construction of a Verdier design and for a budget estimated to need 20 million euros in all. That would facilitate The Ocean Race, the 2022 Route du Rhum and the 2024 Vendée Globe. All under a strong environmental banner, which could be that of the Surfrider Foundation, whose winner of the last Imoca Route du Rhum is one of the ambassadors. “This part commitment is more and more important, and if we make a new boat, we will deploy concrete actions, even making some compromises on performance,” says Paul Meilhat. It remains to convince partners, which he has not managed to do for the last Vendée Globe. “Anyway, I meet interesting people and I talk about the cause, I think I found my fight,” he answers, determined.

Of the other French potentials, Thomas Ruyant, who launched his new Advens for Cybersecurity (Verdier design) last Saturday in Lorient, told us: “2021 being a quiet year, why not? The Ocean Race appeals and we have a boat that could quite easily be adapted to race with a crew, without much too many modifications. That could be, of course, with or without me. Everything is open, “explains Ruyant who will be in Alicante next week for the teams meeting to learn more, and is still looking to  complete his budget for the next Vendée Globe.

On the VO65 front the last few months have been busy since all the boats that participated in the last edition have changed hands, as has been confirmed by the organization of The Ocean Race. The Mirpuri Foundation, which formalized its participation last March, acquired Dongfeng’s 65-footer and have named it Racing For The Planet. The former Mapfre is now in the hands of Sailing Poland; the former Team SCA (who did not run the last Volvo but the previous one) went under the Lithuanian flag and is now called AmberSail-2.

Owned by Sailing Holland is the former Brunel which is currently participating in the European tour in AkzoNobel colours because “AkzoNobel wanted to continue this program after the course”  according to Nathalie Quéré. The former Vestas now belongs to the Austrians of ‘The Austrian Ocean Race Project’ which was launched in mid-August, The former Turn the Tide on Plastic will race The Ocean Race under New Zealand colors if Bianca Cook finds partners. Finally, the former Scallywag has been transferred to a new owner who for the moment is confidential. Sources close to the race also mention a Mexican boat and a French project, led by an experienced skipper. Not all of them will be on the starting line in October 2021 in Alicante because they must have a budget of about fifteen million euros.

Photo: 11th Hour Racing

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