11th hour racing team en IMOCA

Simon Fisher: “The Ocean Race Europe is a great learning experience”

When five times round the world navigator Simon ‘SiFi’ Fisher starts The Ocean Race Europe with the 11th Hour Racing Team it will mark the real start of the journey towards The Ocean Race 2022-2023. Winner of The Volvo Ocean Race in 2014-15 with Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing, his sixth race will be encompass a whole new challenge as the race adopts the IMOCA. Tip & Shaft caught up with SiFi in Lorient just before the race starts….

How is it looking for you, up against some of the newer generation boats?
We have our new foils in and our new race sails. We have a new mainsail and new jib which are a gradual development of what we have been using before. I guess everyone has been looking at how you lower the centre of effort in the sails a bit and people have been getting smaller on head widths but they are maybe getting bigger again.

How much can you optimise the boats for The Ocean Race Europe?
Well we try and sail very light anyway and here I think everyone will try and sail as light as possible. Beyond optimising how much stuff you take the thing is that the foils are all great when you are ripping around in 20kts of wind or even 15kts but when you are floating around in not much wind in the Med it is all very different……

Describe this Ocean Race Europe, what does it represent for you at this stage?
It will be great for us to just line up against a few other boats. We have been lucky to be able to keep sailing pretty much all the way through the pandemic, but we have not had a chance to line up against another IMOCA since I joined the team last year, so the opportunity to like up against other boats is invaluable and a great learning experience. It is nice in a way that there is such a spread of designs, we have two last generation boats in LinkedOut, Thomas Ruyant’s boat and Corum which is the Juan K boat which does not have many miles on it, a different design and foil concept to measure ourselves against, and Bureau Vallée which was L’Occitane. So it a great chance to line up in crewed configuration and see what we can learn.

“This is a real clean sheet
of paper we are starting with”

What do you know about your expected performance of this boat, formerly HUGO BOSS, compared to the others?
it is interesting. We have our own perceptions of what different boats will be like in different conditions but you always see them racing in single or double handed configuration. We watch the trackers and watch the performance very closely but it is rare that these boats really do get pushed to the maximum. It will be interesting to see how hard people can push and for how long and what the performance profile of the boat looks like when they are doing that. In some ways this is a real clean sheet of paper we are starting with.

And this race is useful learning for the finish of The Ocean Race?
Looking forwards to The Ocean Race then we will likely finish in the Med around this time of year and so that can be relevant. And it is fair to say these boats are very optimised to sail on the ocean in big open spaces, but eventually The Ocean Race might come down to the wire in the Mediterranean. So we have to look to how we can optimise our boats to these conditions for the end of that race. It will be very interesting. And we have new foils here which can be a differentiator but of the foiling boats we are one of the oldest boat.

And what is different about these new foils?
The foils are a development of what we have been seeing through the Vendée Globe. We are looking for a good allround performance compared to the Vendée Globe boats. Our scope is very different as the Vendée Globe is very much a downwind course whereas we have a greater proportion of reaching and upwind in The Ocean Race world and so we are trying to hang on to as much allround performance as we can.

And so what is the learning for the foils on the new 11th Hour IMOCA race boat?
The lead times are so long for the foils we had to make decisions about the new boat already it is only a couple of months from launching but we are learning lots every single time we go sailing, how to set up the boat, the foils and so on. Hopefully what we are learning now will give us a nice jump for the new boat.

“I am very conscious of entering
a world which I am less used to”

Give us a quick synopsis of what each leg will be like?
Leg 1 Lorient to Cascais. The course are quite direct. It is does look quite light but the first leg should be be mainly downwind and reaching and hopefully there should be enough time to stretch our legs and get some good speeds. That should be some pretty nice sailing. We should get some stronger downwind off the Portuguese coast. Lisbon to Alicante has a lot of corners so we will be very much in coastal race mode. Gibraltar always throws up something interesting. Again if it is tacking and gybing around the coastline is a new challenge for these boats. If you are working your way up the coastline trying to find wind pressure then you are probably not wanting to be spending too much time inside the boat. Alicante to Genoa is more of the same in the Med. There is potentially some stronger stuff if we get a Mistral. But then all the Giraglia races I have done we have never finished into Genoa in any wind. I have mentally prepared myself for a drift off at the finish!

How will you work things as a team?
We have myself, Charlie (Enright), Pascal (Bidégorry) and Justine (Mettraux) and Amory (Ross) all sailing. And then we will split into two handed mode. We are four or five then you have to be quite flexible except sticking to the same positions for manoeuvres, so it is not too much freestyle. I will navigate primarily and then everyone has their roles, but once you are into watch systems you have to be able to cover off everything, you have to be strong all round.

So as a navigator how have you had to update your skillset with this in mind?
I am very excited about the opportunity to do the Transat Jacques Vabre. Justine and I will take the boat back to France in two handed mode after the finish. You have to keep learning but to be fair so much of the training we have done recently has been about the performance of the boat and sails and so on. I have done mostly navigation and performance related stuff until now so I am really looking forwards to the next phase. I am very conscious of entering a world which I am less used to, one where you really have to be across everything at all times, managing yourself, the boat, the tactical stuff and flying stuff of the bow and making sure that all runs smoothly. There are less people and so you really have to pick when you do your sail changes for example. Justine has a lot of experience in that area and having Pascal in the team, he has so much experience, and we have a really nice mix of cultures between the Anglo Saxon and the French. We have a really nice environment.

What do you think about the number of entries?
I think it is pretty good, really. We are only now starting to see teams emerge after the Vendée Globe, it is good to see a few teams ready to take this race. It will be a competitive field for sure.

“I do feel like a bit of a newbie”

How different is the new boat compared to the Vendée Globe boats?
We have seen how you can optimise the boat for crewed sailing but the boat has two handed sailing to do this year. There are the constraints of the rule which mean you are limited in the space you can create. A fair comment is that we are learning to sail crewed in a type of boat which is for single handed or short handed sailing. The biggest thing is the human challenge, you are on top of each other all the time. It is also always different when you are training and racing, it is easy to turn down when you are making a manoeuvre when you are looking after people then when you are racing. It will be interesting to see how much harder you have to push and the key will always be when you make your changes, making it slightly easier for yourselves or are you trying to do more when your fully foiling at full speed when it is not easy to do anything.

Looking ahead from where you are now to the Transat Jacques Vabre, what would your target finishing position?
It is very hard to say as I have so much to learn. I just want to feel like we have done a really good job. We have a fair amount of training after this race and we have the Fastnet so we will see then where we are at and where the boat is at. We are lucky to have this boat and new foils, it is well proven and strong and so if we sail smart and sail strong we have a lot of potential to get a good result. I have so much respect for these guys who are doing it year in year out. But I do feel like a bit of a newbie.

With the boat now configured the way it is, how would you see it compare to the likes of L’Occitane? And in the right hands your boat could have won the last Vendée Globe?
Potentially, yes. This boat is a very good boat but for sure there are areas where the new boats are better.

Is there anyone from within your 11th Hour Racing Team talking about the 2024 Vendée Globe?
Not really at the moment, the focus is all on the Transat Jacques Vabre this year and The Ocean Race next year, but as we do more IMOCA sailing I wonder if some of them will start to consider it. I have not considered it myself. Justine does and it is the one thing on the French circuit Pascal has not done and I dare say Charlie has not eliminated it from his thinking, but I have not convinced myself yet!

Photo: 11th Hour Racing Team

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