The Ocean Race: Leaders extend in new breeze – more calms expected

The crews competing in The Ocean Race Europe have spent a second restless night out on the Mediterranean searching for wind to help them along the race’s third and final leg from Alicante, Spain to Genova, Italy.

Racing in two classes – seven identical one-design VO65s and five development rule IMOCA 60s – the crews representing nine countries made a fast exit from Alicante last Sunday afternoon in 15 knot-winds and under clear skies.

Since leaving Alicante both classes have made stop/start progress due to patchy winds and large glassy areas of total flat calm littering the route to Genova.

The VO65 class has made the best collective progress so far, having made it past the Spanish islands of Mallorca and Menorca overnight, and into some welcome fresher northerly breeze filtering out across the Mediterranean from the French interior.

In the last 24 hours the leading pair – Sailing Team Poland, skippered by Bouwe Bekking with Norway’s Aksel Magdhal navigating, and Mirpuri Foundation Racing Team led by Yoann Richomme, with Nico Lunven navigating – have benefitted from being first into the new breeze and considerably extended the gap between them and the chasing pack.

Meanwhile, there was relief aboard the Dutch-flagged Team Childhood-I, skippered by two-time around the world racer Simeon Tienpont (NED). The crew had bet everything on an alternative northern passage past the Balearic Islands, but yesterday had struggled to find any meaningful wind along the north-west coast of Mallorca.

“We’re about halfway through the leg and we’ve had a nice split in the fleet,” Lars van Stekelenborg said of the Team Childhood boat today. “We were the only boat going over Mallorca, so as it is right now, Poland and Mirpuri are slightly ahead of us and to leeward. We can’t see them.

“The other pack is about 90-degrees off, and about 10 miles from us, so we can’t see them either. We’re all sailing east and into a tricky area again as fast as we can and then we’ll have to see what happens when we get there.”

In the IMOCA 60 class the northern route taken by Robert Stanjek’s non-foiling Offshore Team Germany has continued to pay dividends.

“We never planned to split from the other IMOCAs, but all of our weather routings were all north of the Balearics, so to us it was obvious we go this way to the coastline,” Stanjek said.

“Some of the others did as well, but then somehow we found a lane where we were lifted brutally away from the fleet. Within a few hours the separation was so big. It was never our plan to split, but a chance opened, and we took it, and now it is like two different races.

“Four of the IMOCAs are south and they are sailing their race and we have to sail ours.”

On board Offshore Team Germany – Felix Diemar pic

Since last evening, the German yacht has pulled away into a 66nm lead over the four foiling IMOCAS – Louis Burton’s Bureau Vallée (FRA) in second, Charlie Enright’s 11th Hour Racing Team in third, Thomas Ruyant’s LinkedOut in fourth, and Nicolas Troussel’s CORUM L’Épargne (FRA) fifth.

“All of the foiling IMOCAs are close together (this morning) off the coast of Mallorca,” Pip Hare on Bureau Vallée said. “Offshore Team Germany went north of the Balearic Islands, which was a punchy move, and it looks like it may pay off for them, they’re looking good. We’re all battling it out on the south side though.

It’s very close racing. We’ve had complete (wind) shut downs and then at one stage we were doing 16 knots upwind. It’s great. Let’s see where it goes.”

Despite today’s better breezes and the large separation seen in both fleets, the wind is expected to drop away again, which may result in both fleets compressing before the end of leg three.

“Leading into the light air zones is always tricky as the boats behind have more speed and manoeuvrability and can wait for us to slow down before they try another way to attack,” Aksel Magdahl, Sailing Poland navigator admitted.

“We will just have to be patient and not start giving away too much to cover the boats behind, otherwise the lead will slip quickly.”

By 1130 UTC today, the first effects of the easing breezes began to impact the VO65 leaders with Sailing Team Poland first to slow down, soon followed by second placed Mirpuri Foundation Racing Team, 10nm behind.

At the same time, seventy nautical miles to the west, IMOCA 60 leaders Offshore Team Germany were still in good breeze and trucking along at double-digit speeds as they extended further on the group of four foilers – still making their way past Menorca and not yet fully in the new breeze.

With leading VO65 Sailing Team Poland having a little over 200nm to race to Genova and the leading IMOCA 60 Offshore Team Germany a further 80nm back, the earliest estimated arrival in Genova for the leading boats is Wednesday night.

Follow the fleet’s progress on the race tracker:

Jeanneau SF30 OD
NAV at Home
Jeanneau JY55