At 1415 SAST (1215 UTC), 11th Hour Racing Team crossed the startline of Leg 3 of The Ocean Race 2022-23 – destination Itajaí, Brazil. This third leg of the round the world yacht race is the longest in the 50 year history, and 14th edition, of the world’s longest sporting event, and will see the US-flagged team race for nearly 35 days, through the Southern Ocean, en route to Brazil.
The team left Cape Town with two reefs in their mainsail, in very patchy, south-easterly conditions. In the wind shadow of Table Mountain, the fleet had to deal with an extraordinary mix of wind speeds as they negotiated the in-port section of the start – a two-lap course close to shore for the spectators. It was stop-start for the five boats as they had to contend with over 30 knots of wind which decreased down to four.
Just 45-minutes after the start of the race, a batten end fitting in the 11th Hour Racing Team mainsail – which maintains the structure of the sail – broke. Within ten minutes, and in a welcome patch of light breeze, the team made the decision to drop its mainsail and check the situation.
On reviewing the damage, the team suspended racing at 1507 local (1307 UTC), which allowed them a minimum two hour window to make a repair as, in compliance with the Race’s Sailing Instructions, they were within the first 12-hours of the Leg start.
Speaking from onboard during the suspension of racing, a stoical Enright said, “We didn’t quite make it out of Table Bay unscathed … In the last high-risk maneuver we didn’t get the headsail round quick enough and possibly rushed the manoeuvre a bit, and very quickly noticed that the wing tips in battens one and two had exploded. It wasn’t immediately clear whether the battens were broken or not – and as it turns out they are not.
“We actually have what we need to do the repair onboard, but that would send us into the south with no spares. It is cheaper to suspend racing now, as you can do it for a minimum of two hours, whereas after the first 12-hours of the race, there would be a mandatory 12-hour suspension.
“We will fix this properly, inspect everything, and we have a plan with the shore team who will bring out extra spares so we can sail this leg as we planned and not be compromised.
“A two hour [delay] over 35 days with all the different systems and transitions which will transpire between now and then probably won’t be the difference. I’m not saying boats won’t finish within two hours of each other, but that’s probably after the cards get shuffled a couple of times,” Enright said. The team restarted racing at 1707 SAST (1507 UTC).
It wasn’t just 11th Hour Racing Team which experienced problems after the start. Biotherm, skippered by Paul Meilhat, has also suspended racing due to a technical issue.
In a voicenote to the shore team half an hour after the suspension of racing, Enright concluded: “As soon as we saw the damage, we quickly regrouped and decided together that the suspension of racing was the best course of action. Although difficult, it feels like the right thing to do and made it a little bit easier that we are watching the other teams crawl away from us at 2 knots and not 20 knots.
“As soon as they touch this other pressure that will change, but it is what it is. Time is moving a little slow looking at the watch here now, but we’ll be up and running soon enough and looking forward to getting back to racing.”
Enright and his crew returned to the position at which they suspended racing before setting off again, to comply with the Race’s Sailing Instructions.
11th Hour Racing Team is led by Charlie Enright (USA), with Navigator Simon Fisher (GBR), and Jack Bouttell (AUS/GBR) and Justine Mettraux as Trimmers. Amory Ross (USA) completes the line-up as the team’s Media Crew Member.
Once the teams are on their way, the first key tactical decision will be whether to stay close to the shore close to the Cape of Good Hope – the southern-most point of the African continent – or head into the stronger winds further south or even south west. This option doesn’t take the crews closer to their route to Brazil, but will allow them to hook into the stronger pressure some 300 miles to the south.
Navigator, Simon Fisher, speaking before the team left the dock said, “The start will be tricky. We are expecting 20-25 knots, but there is always a light patch under Table Mountain, so we’ll have to negotiate that during the in-port section of the start. Then the question will be whether we go offshore to the south-west, or keep tracking around the Cape and across False Bay, and then go down south after that.
“I think all the teams are going to be keeping a close eye on each other in the first 12 hours of the race, and our route will be driven in part by what the other boats do – we won’t want to be the only boat that takes on one option. At this stage of the game, it’s always difficult when there is a big decision to make really early on, but the key to our preparation has been to understand all the options fully – what are the drivers, what are the risks, and what are the opportunities,” Fisher concluded.
This third leg will take the IMOCA sailors down to the Roaring Forties and Furious Fifties of the Southern Ocean. Antarctica will be to the right, and the fleet will need to pass all three great Capes – the Cape of Good Hope, Cape Leeuwin, and Cape Horn – to port, without stopping, for the first time in the history of the Race.
There are ten points up for grabs for the Leg, rather than the normal maximum of five available. The first five points will be awarded in order at which the teams cross the longitudinal line at 143 degrees east, and the second set of up to five points will be awarded in finishing order.
Skipper Enright commented, “The Southern Ocean can give you a lot, but it can also take everything away in a flash. You have to brace yourself for this part of the world. We do this race for the competition, obviously, but also for the adventure, and never is the adventure more omnipresent than it is in this leg
“Out there your competitors are your lifeline, and at one stage the closest people to you are in the International Space Station. 40 foot waves and 60 mph winds are a regular occurrence in the depths of the Southern Ocean – we don’t take anything down there lightly, or for granted,” he concluded.
The team is racing onboard their 60-foot IMOCA race boat Mālama – which means to care for and protect in Hawaiian – as part of their global mission to raise awareness for action and innovation for ocean health, and to inspire change for people and planet. During this Leg, the team will deploy two NOAA weather buoys which will gather data and meteorological information to inform climate scientists and weather specialists about the health of the ocean, while also updating the weather models used by the crews for their race routing. “We’ll be doing our part for citizen science in the Southern Ocean,” said Simon Fisher.
For the first 24-hours of the Race, the race tracker will be updated every five minutes before reverted to hourly updates. 11th Hour Racing Team can be tracked on the team website at www.11thhourracingteam.org.