The first edition of The Ocean Race to be conducted under a new format, and with the notable absence of a title sponsor (formerly the Volvo Ocean Race), got underway yesterday in Alicante, Spain. Beginning under brilliant sunny skies and puffy breeze, the 11 boats spread across two divisions are now beating into stiff headwinds as they approach the Strait of Gibraltar. From here they lead into the Atlantic Ocean and toward a Leg 1 finish in the Cape Verde Islands.
As of this writing, the American IMOCA 60 team 11th Hour Racing — certainly a pre-race favorite — has come back from a somewhat underwhelming start to take a small lead in the premier IMOCA division. At the head of the Volvo 65 division, the Lithuanian team Ambersail 2 has taken a tactical flyer, choosing to sail in stronger winds in the middle of the Alboran Sea instead of hugging the coastline like the rest of the fleet. The Mexican Volvo 65 entry Viva Mexico is the only casualty thus far, as they have ripped their mainsail and suspended racing to head to port in Almeria, Spain. Conditions were said to be gusting over 30 knots at the time of the incident.
The 14th edition of the round-the-world classic that began 50 years ago hasn’t run in nearly five years due to delays related to the COVID pandemic, and will be barely recognizable to most viewers when compared with previous editions. With a new two-division format including the debut of the IMOCA 60s in fully-crewed round-the-world racing, one can only hope that the competition will be as good as ever and set the stage for a revival in this race that is said to be on life support.
With six Volvo 65s and five IMOCA 60s competing in the first leg and in the last two legs, the full course will be sailed by only the five IMOCAs. The six Volvo 65s will be racing for a new ‘Sprint Cup’ that will see them sailing only in the shorter European-based legs at the start and finish of the round-the-world marathon race. Again due to complications related to the pandemic and some questionable governmental decisions, the third leg of the race in particular will be a monster: The five IMOCA teams will sail nonstop from Cape Town, South Africa, all the way through the Southern Ocean and around Cape Horn before stopping in Brazil.
While the size of the fleet that will sail all the way around the world may be small, it makes up for this with an interesting mix of boats and sailors that should create close and exciting racing. Four of the five IMOCAs are brand-new builds. The American entry 11th Hour Racing, skippered by Newport, Rhode Island’s Charlie Enright, is managed by the Bay Area’s Bill Erkelens and also includes Hawaiian sailor Mark Towill. Enright and media man Amory Ross are the only Americans onboard for the first leg. Their new boat, named Malama, is the only IMOCA 60 to have been built specifically for fully crewed racing in The Ocean Race and is so far showing promising speed.
As of this writing, 11th Hour Racing is proving to be a good upwind boat as she beats along the Spanish coastline, with Kevin Escoffier’s Holcim PRB seemingly the only boat that can challenge 11th Hour’s pace. Once the two fleets exit the Strait of Gibraltar and enter the Atlantic, they should make quick work of the westerly wind, which will shift northwest and then turn into a more traditional downwind run toward the Cape Verde Islands. Stay tuned to https://www.theoceanrace.com to follow this round-the-world racing adventure, and don’t blink, because the first leg won’t take long to complete!