March 9, 2023. Cape Town, South Africa
It’s week 2, Leg 3 of The Ocean Race – the world’s longest and toughest sporting event – and the only US entry, 11th Hour Racing Team, has passed the remote Kerguelen Islands, and soon they’ll be passing to the south of Australia. It has been a week of emotional highs and lows for Skipper Charlie Enright (USA) and his four-strong team onboard.
The crew are taking on the longest-ever leg in the 50-year history of The Ocean Race, from Cape Town, South Africa, to Itajaí, Brazil, a 12,750 nautical mile marathon through the Southern Ocean. This past week has seen the team deal with cracks appearing in both rudders, sail breakages, and an ongoing battle with the board-down lines which keep the foils locked and loaded. Life onboard has been draining for the crew. “The lows of this leg are very low,” said Enright. “But the high for me is the way our team onboard and onshore has continued to respond to the adversity we’ve faced.”
The team set a new 24-hour distance record of 544.63 nautical miles at an average speed of 22.7 knots, which, subject to official ratification by the World Sailing Speed Record Council, will break Alex Thomson’s long-standing record of 539.71nm, in 2018. It also bettered the distance covered by the team in Leg 2, which won the sailors the Ulysse Nardin 24-hour prize, when they covered 542.68 nautical miles.
This was certainly one of the big highs, although not necessarily for the reasons one might expect. “Yeah, that was cool,” said Enright. “The record will probably fall to someone, perhaps even us again, later in this leg. But it’s an indelible mark that will live on in history forever. However, records are meant to be broken.
“More of a high was that the boat was functioning well, and we were sailing well for 24 hours, which is something that hasn’t been the norm for us on this leg. Whether it’s the wingtips [of the sail battens] breaking at the start and having to suspend racing, the problems with the board-down lines, there’s been a lot going on. We’ve been manually pumping our keel since day two, we’ve had two sails to repair, two rudder cracks, and a partridge in a pear tree. It’s like a bad Christmas song!”
For all of that, The Ocean Race fleet has compressed. At one point the leader, Holcim-PRB, stretched their advantage to more than 600 nautical miles, but now the bungee cord of the fast-moving weather systems through the Southern Ocean has tightened again in favor of the chasing pack of three – Biotherm, Team Malizia, and 11th Hour Racing Team. The first target of this double-points leg is the scoring gate which is a north-south line on a longitude just west of Tasmania. With less than 200 nautical miles between the front and back of the fleet, the first scoring points could yet go in any direction.
The Swiss Trimmer, Justine Mettraux, says the team is drawing strength from the distance-to-leader starting to come down. “We’re carrying a bit more wind from the back of the fleet,” she said, “and it has been nice over the past 48 hours to see the mileage decrease.”
She enjoyed those 24-hours of high-speed conditions which led to the record. “We were sailing in really good wind and waves, that was a really good moment. It makes up for the hard times like having to make the sail repairs. That was probably the toughest moment so far because it’s cold and wet, and trying to fix anything in this part of the world is a bit of a challenge!”
Enright added: “Breaking the sails was a pain because we couldn’t sail the angles that we wanted. But serendipitously, that ended up putting us in light air which allowed us to check the rudders and discover the cracks, and it would have been a much bigger deal further down the road in more difficult conditions. So I’m not usually a silver lining guy, but it seems there’s always a silver lining ...”
For now, the crew onboard the 60-foot yacht have their tails up and are fighting fit once again. “We’re on the charge,” said Enright, “taking miles out of the leaders and everybody’s grinding, and that’s the most important part. We’re in touch maybe for this scoring gate, and definitely in touch for the longer leg, so we’re pushing hard.”
The Bristol, Rhode Island, Skipper, who is on his third circumnavigation of the planet, is pleased with how the team has responded to the adversity so far. “It’s easy to be a good team when everything’s going well. It’s harder to be a good team when things aren’t going your way. So the fact that we’ve banded together and been solution-based in our approach makes me personally proud. Of course, we need to translate all that into points as this is, after all, a race. We’re getting to a pretty critical juncture in the race, but I think everyone understands that, which is why we’re so dug in.”
Mettraux thanked everyone for the good vibes flowing into Mālama from around the world. “It’s always nice to get messages from family, friends, and fans, and it’s great to know so many people are following us. We’re trying to give our best, and all the support makes us feel good about the energy that we’re putting into sailing the boat down here in the remoteness of the Southern Ocean.”
Leg 3 current positions as of Thursday, March 9, 2023 at 1900 UTC
DTL=distance to leader
2. 11th Hour Racing Team – DTL 161nm
3. Team Malizia – DTL 187nm
4. Biotherm – DTL 193nm
5. Guyot environnement – Team Europe – suspended racing
11th Hour Racing Team Crew for Leg 3 of The Ocean Race 2022-23:
Charlie Enright (USA) – Skipper
Simon Fisher (GBR) – Navigator
Jack Bouttell (AUS/GBR) – Trimmer
Justine Mettraux (SUI) – Trimmer
Amory Ross (USA) – Media Crew Member
5 points = first; 4 points = second etc.
1. Team Holcim – PRB – 10 points (5+5)
2. 11th Hour Racing Team – 7 points (4+3)
3. Biotherm Racing – 6 points (2+4)
4. Team Malizia – 5 points (3+2)
5. GUYOT environnement – Team Europe – 2 points (1+1)
The Ocean Race 2022-23 Route:
Leg 1: Alicante, Spain to Mindelo, Cabo Verde
Leg 2: Cabo Verde to Cape Town, South Africa
Leg 3: Cape Town, South Africa to Itajaí, Brazil
Leg 4: Itajaí, Brazil, to Newport, Rhode Island
Leg 5: Newport, Rhode Island to Aarhus, Denmark
Leg 6: Aarhus, Denmark to The Hague, The Netherlands (with a flyby past Kiel, Germany)
Leg 7: The Hague, The Netherlands to Genoa, Italy