The Ocean Race: Fleets compress as light air pervades on approach to finish

Another 24 hours of light wind racing out on the Mediterranean on the third and final leg of The Ocean Race Europe has seen both the VO65 and IMOCA 60 fleets compress significantly as they push towards the finish line in Genova, Italy.

There has been compression in the five boat IMOCA 60 class with the trailing group of four foilers – 11th Hour Racing Team (USA), LinkedOut (FRA), Bureau Vallée (FRA), CORUM L’Épargne (FRA) – all starting to make better progress in new breeze.

These boats are considerably eating into the leg-long lead established by the non-foiling Offshore Team Germany (GER) skippered by Robert Stanjek.

At 0000 UTC this morning, Stanjek and his crew – navigator Benjamin Dutreux, Annie Lush, Phillip Kasüske and their onboard reporter, Felix Diemer, were 97nm ahead of the pack.

This afternoon at 1300 UTC, that lead had nearly been halved to 58nm.

The 11th Hour Racing Team of skipper Charlie Enright, past winners of the race Pascal Bidégorry and Simon Fisher, round the world sailor Justine Mettraux, and OBR Amory Ross, – lead a charge from the foilers in new breeze that has seen the yachts accelerate to consistent double-digit speeds for the first time in 48 hours.

“We’re trying to push hard for sure, but it’s just very tricky on this coastline,” Stanjek said.

“Overall, I’m very happy with our big lead over the rest of the fleet. We just have to sail our race and bring it home safely. We have to stay focussed – it’s not a given.”

11th Hour Racing Team’s Charlie Enright said, “Well, we’re sailing these ocean-going machines inside the Mediterranean Sea, so it’s very complicated.

“There’s not a lot of wind and they don’t go well in not a lot of wind, so you need to squeeze every ounce of performance out of them, or you may never get started again if you stop.

“We’ve done more manoeuvres in this leg probably than we have in the rest of the race combined already. So it’s really tricky and you’ve got to stay on your game.”

On board Mirpuri Foundation Race Team – Martin Keruzore pic

There’s more of that to come, with another night of light winds and calm areas forecast before the IMOCA fleet finds its way to Genova on Thursday.

Further ahead, the seven VO65s continue to make the best of light to moderate conditions with the entire fleet of identical one-design yachts now within 100nm of Genova.

Sailing Team Poland VO65 was still in front on Wednesday afternoon, albeit with a dramatically reduced lead over their nearest rivals, second placed Team Childhood I (NED) and Mirpuri Foundation racing Team (POR) in third.

The Polish-flagged yacht skippered by serial around-the-world racer, Bouwe Bekking, has led the VO65 class for the majority of this third leg from Alicante, Spain. At one point, it was 27nm ahead of the pack. Since yesterday, that advantage has been pegged back to under 5nm.

With under 60nm still to race to Genova, just 26nm separated the VO65 leader Sailing Team Poland from seventh placed The Austrian Ocean Race Project.

The Polish team’s nearest rivals – Childhood I skippered by Simeon Tienpont, and the Yoann Richomme-skippered Mirpuri Foundation Ocean Racing – are respectively 4 and 6nm behind and ready to pounce on any mistake.

But with the chances high of a breeze shutdown tonight on the approach to Genova, at this stage none of the chasing fleet can be ruled out of a leg three podium position.

“We got away from Mallorca and Minorca with the Polish, although they were leading by 10 miles and pulled away from the rest of the field by almost 20 miles,” explained Yoann Richomme on board the Mirpuri Foundation boat. “Luck can turn and it’s still a long leg to Genoa.”

“There’s still a lot to fight for,” said navigator Will Harris on the fourth-placed AkzoNobel Ocean Race.

“We’ve got Poland, which was 22-23 miles ahead of us last night, now down to 13 miles, so we’ll see kind of how the opportunities come up. But still a whole load of snakes and ladders to play before we get to finish.”

Latest estimates predict that the earliest arrivals in Genova would be near midnight tonight, but there is significant uncertainty in that ETA. If the wind holds as it is, the leading VO65s could arrive over two hours earlier. However, if the wind dies out as forecast, the boats could be drifting, becalmed, within miles of the finishing line and well into the morning hours.

There will be live coverage of the finishes in Genoa on The Ocean Race YouTube and Facebook platforms as well as: http://www.theoceanrace.com where you can also follow the progress of the fleets on the race tracker.

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