The five IMOCA crews who have so far signed up to compete in The Ocean Race 2022-23 have moved into the final stages of their preparation for the class’ first ever fully-crewed race around the world.
All five crews are racing in Lorient this week at the annual Défi Azimut – Lorient Agglomération regatta where all but one of them, Kevin Escoffier’s Holcim – PRB, are sailing with four crew and one onboard reporter (OBR), as per The Ocean Race regulations.
Speaking to an audience of invited media on Tuesday evening Boris Herrmann, skipper of the German-flagged entry Team Malizia, said he felt that a “new era in offshore sailing” was beginning with the advent of fully-crewed IMOCAs racing around the world.
“It is a very different style of sailing in these boats. It’s very technological and for the crew work everyone is much more multifaceted and at a higher level. It is really a new generation of sailors that is needed for this race.”
Echoing Herrmann’s comments, 11th Hour Racing Team skipper Charlie Enright (USA) said the challenge of building a team for such a new-style of racing had been different to his two previous VO65 campaigns – Team Alvimedica in 2014-15, and Vestas 11th Hour in 2017-18.
“I think what this race is going to be remains to be seen. It has never happened before so how you go about building a team isn’t totally clear.
“The ratio of the technical team to the sailors has basically inverted. In the last race it was nine sailors on board and five in the shore team, now it takes a small army to keep these things going. They are very technical, very advanced and there is a lot of design, so it’s definitely a different experience.“
France’s Benjamin Dutreux – skipper of GUYOT environnement – Team Europe raced to ninth in the last Vendée Globe aboard a non-foiling boat and went on to win last year’s inaugural edition of The Ocean Race Europe also on a non-foiling boat.
Now, along with co-skipper Robert Stanjek (GER), Dutreux and the rest of the team are excited to take on The Ocean Race on foils, but acknowledge they have a lot to catch up on.
“I can’t wait to live this story with the team, it’s huge. It is a dream to do it so I am very happy. Now we just need to go fast and learn about this foiling boat. It is the first year for me on a foiling boat. I started four months ago and it’s the first week for the team – so we need to learn quickly.”
Portuguese Olympian and past match racing world champion Mariana Lobato is racing with Paul Meilhat (FRA) on the very recently launched Biotherm.
Lobato won The Ocean Race Europe on the Mirpuri Foundation Sailing Team VO65 but said she had quickly discovered how different an experience it was sailing an IMOCA. She said her teamwork experience was what she hoped to bring to her new team.
“We don’t have a lot of time together – we sailed together for the first time today. I am super happy to have this opportunity to learn. My goal is to learn event day and I know I will learn a lot because we have a lot to do.”
Holcim – PRB skipper Kevin Escoffier said he was delighted to be making a return to The Ocean Race for the third time after finishing third in 2014-15 before winning in 2017-18 – both with Dongfeng Race Team.
“I am very happy to be back as a skipper. We are looking forward to being at the start and to compete against these great teams. I am sure we will have great racing with these fast and very impressive boats. We are going to cities that haven’t seen that many monohulls flying and I think they will be very happy to see us.”
After the Défi Azimut the next milestone for all the teams except 11th Hour Racing Team is the solo Route du Rhum transatlantic race from St Malo to Guadeloupe starting November 6.
All five teams will then regroup at The Ocean Race headquarters in Alicante, Spain this December ahead of the start of the race’s first leg to the mid-Atlantic African archipelago Cabo Verde on January 15, 2023, alongside the one-design VO65 fleet.