The start of The Ocean Race which will be sailed in Imocas for the first time (*) is set to be on January 15 from Alicante for a first leg heading to Cape Verde. As well as the actual sporting challenge there is a big logistical challenge for the teams involved, particularly as four of them were on the Route du Rhum during November. Here Tip & Shaft assess the human, technical and financial resources required to deal with these challenges.
Antoine Mermod, president of the class who in many aspects is the real architect of the agreement between The Ocean Race organizers and the Imoca which sees the 60 footers as the new class, summarizes one of the challenges of this change: “In this racing format in fully crewed mode our boats are heavier and will therefore be going into higher effort ranges with lower safety margins. For the teams one key challenge will be to limit damage by making essential regular checks allowed at stopovers.”
In the opinion of the boss of the Imoca, all the technical skills of the shore teams, one of the keys to their success is based on “their ability to put themselves under pressure, sometimes in a space of just 15 days, to receive, check and repair the boats”.
As such the start in Alicante, far from the French bases, offered a good warm-up test for those going from Guadeloupe to the Spanish start port. That is with the exception of the Americans of 11th Hour Racing Team – the only team to have concentrated their efforts and resources on The Ocean Race. The other four teams have had to carry out an express post-Route du Rhum refit on their return from Guadeloupe.
New foils for Malizia!
“We have had to make a complete check-up of the hull and all the parts, the installation of new bunks, a change of stove… Above all, we tried to get the boat back in perfect working order and to configure it simply for five people on board“, says Benjamin Dutreux, co-skipper of Guyot Environnement-Team Germany.
For Malizia-Seaexplorer, their project in Spain took a completely different turn, since the ultrasonic checks revealed failures in the foils which required them to be changed. That has been a big last minute challenge taken up by the 19 technicians on the team. “We had a very short amount of time to act. And we found new ones that were the right shape and available in Avel Robotics in Lorient. They are the same as Sam Davies foils. So the team worked non stop through Xmas to finish those foils, renew the bearings and fit them in the boat,“ said Holly Cova, team manager of the German team.
This race against time also concerned the Holcim-PRB team, especially since The Ocean Race was not originallly on their programme: “This round the world race with its seven stages was added between the Route du Rhum and the Transat Jacque Vabre 2023. It’s a pretty tight, busy schedule with a lot of travelling which must be taken into account,” confirms Marine Derrien, manager of the team.
To be ready in Alicante on January 15, on the strength of a first experience with the Dongfeng Racing Team in 2017/18, she has focused in particular on human reinforcements: “A few more people, in composites and communication, a chef, a mental coach and a sports coach” are now on board to support Kevin Escoffier’s team. “On a Vendée Globe where there is one person in logistics now there are three!”, explains Derrien.
It is the same challenge for Guyot Environnement, a Franco-German team on which many nationalities rub shoulders: “It’s a bit of a job to ensure that everyone is in the right place at the right time, with the right tool in their hand to work properly. Usually, we work with a team of 12. Now there are 25-30 people, and a nanny for the little ones who are with us. It is a big scaling up in size,” confirms Benjamin Dutreux.
Limited spares, tight budgets
Beyond the actual human travel requirements there is the question of the transport of technical equipment, which brings challenges which are not necessarily easy to solve on this 2023 edition which has a tight schedule and racing boats that sometimes go faster than cargo ships between two stopovers! “We only have one work container which will go directly to Itajai after the start. For Cape Town, we are sharing a bit with another team, and we will manage on the ground. We are constantly looking for people and solutions to be able to adapt,” says Marine Legendre, manager of the Biotherm team led by Paul Meilhat.
Even Holcim-PRB, a team that is well equipped with two sets of two containers guaranteeing them the minimum of equipment at each stopover, does not escape the inevitable trade-offs: “Before the start we have strategic choices to make in terms of what spare parts go where – rudders, jockey poles, sails, etc. that we send to the various stopovers”, adds manager Marine Derrien.
Faced with these technical and logistical challenges, Benjamin Dutreux concedes that “the big downside is not being able to deal with all the possible breakages. With a budget of 2.7 million against the 3 that really would have been needed for this race, we cannot have a spare everything.” And if they can possibly count on a spare mast made available to all the teams by the Imoca class, he does not have spare foils.
Still, in everyone’s opinion, the additional cost generated by participation in The Ocean Race remains affordable: “It varies a lot from one team to another, but remains considerably lower compared to the old budgets necessary to race in VOR65,” says Holly Cova. Her opinion is shared by Marine Derrien: “To participate, we must at least double our annual operating budget. But with far fewer sailors, that’s nothing compared to the 5-6 million needed to race in VOR65.”
“The Ocean Race is an individual challenge for each team, but it is a common challenge that our Imoca fleet is up to the logistical challenges of such a race“, concludes Antoine Mermod. And the key to The Ocean Race attracting more Imoca teams in the future…
Photo : Eloi Stichelbaut – polaRYSE