White-knuckle racing for The Ocean Race fleet

Times are tense as the fleet compresses on day 16 of leg 2 to Cape Town

For nearly 4700 nautical miles, the five IMOCA teams competing in leg 2 of The Ocean Race have been dueling south from Cabo Verde towards a finish line just off the V+A Waterfront of Cape Town.

Overnight Wednesday night the race shifted into a speed contest to the northeast as the one by one the fleet gybed out of the depths of the Roaring 40s to point directly towards Cape Town.

Incredibly, on Friday at noon UTC, the leading trio – Team Malizia, Team Holcim PRB and11th Hour Racing Team – are separated by less than 2.5 nautical miles on the advantage line as they drag race towards Cape Town on day 16 of the leg.

Leg 2, Day 16 onboard Biotherm. Paul Meilhat at the bow at night. © Anne Beauge / Biotherm
Leg 2, Day 16 onboard Biotherm. Paul Meilhat at the bow at night. © Anne Beauge / Biotherm

However there is one more ‘speed bump’ to navigate. A ridge of high pressure – with very light winds – sits between the teams and the finish line. The leading boats keep poking their bows into the lighter conditions and slowing down. Meanwhile, the last place boat in the fleet is bringing fresh winds with them as they relentlessly close the gap.

In fact, GUYOT environnement – Team Europe, who trailed by over 510 miles when they made their turn to point at Cape Town, now find themselves less than 240 miles behind – a number that is coming down with each hourly position report.

“I’ve just done the routing (the weather routing predictions) for all of the boats, and we all finish within 10 minutes!” said Team Holcim PRB skipper Kevin Escoffier, in what may, or may not, be an exaggeration.

“What kind of sport are we doing when we do nearly 20 days at sea, pushing for every metre and then at the end everything is decided by the weather forecast?!?!

“But we know sailing is like that…” he concluded with a grim laugh. The only strategy left, he said, is to try and go as fast as possible for as long as possible. “We’ll see.”

This is the harsh truth of the next 48 hours for crews that are physically and mentally at the limit. Every decision is fraught with meaning as they attack crossing a high pressure ridge that is as wide as 250 miles – a mini Dodrums.

“The closer we get to the finish line, the less wind we are going to have,” said Biotherm skipper Paul Meilhat. His team is nearly 100 miles to the northwest of the leading trio and sailing in different conditions. Will this be enough leverage to squeeze past?

“We hope to reduce the distance to the leaders. Maybe we will use a different strategy. They’ve left open the possibility to go directly to the finishing line (as opposed to coming up from the south).”

And after the ridge, a sprint to Cape Town.

“…once we do punch through this atrocious weather feature, we’ll have perhaps a couple of hundred mile coastal race to the finish,” noted 11th Hour Racing Team skipper Charlie Enright. “And if you believe any of the computers that we use, everybody will finish within 10 feet of each other, despite the 16 days that we busted our … selves to get here!!!! So that is it, that’s the end of leg 2!”

The ETA for Cape Town is Sunday February 12.

Follow the latest positions on the Race Tracker

Leg Two Rankings at 1200 UTC – 10 February 2023

  1. Team Malizia, distance to finish, 556.7 miles
  2. Team Holcim-PRB, distance to lead, 1.9 miles
  3. 11th Hour Racing Team, distance to lead, 2.4 miles
  4. Biotherm, distance to lead, 68.0 miles
  5. GUYOT environnement – Team Europe, distance to lead, 217.4 miles

For more on The Ocean Race, visit our website: www.theoceanrace.com

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