Five IMOCAs will line up for the 14th edition The Ocean Race, with Leg 1 starting on the 15th of January in Alicante, Spain and racing 1,900 miles to Mindello, Cabo Verde. This race will be very different to most other IMOCA events; being fully crewed, the sailors will push the boats to their limits from start to finish. Reliability will be the key to a decent finish come the end – and with three of the five boats launching in the last year that will be easier said than done.
The teams can choose between four and five crew members for each leg, plus one onboard reporter. If a boat decides to sail with four, at least one of which needs to be a female sailor, and if they choose to sail with five, at least four need to be female sailors.
11th Hour Racing
11th Hour Racing is the only boat designed specifically for The Ocean Race – the team have been working towards this race for several years. Finishing 5th in the last edition, Charlie Enright and team turned their focus into this race; their team motto is ‘We Race to Win’. Their preparation started by buying my old boat, HUGO BOSS 6, to get a handle on the IMOCA Class and test some ideas that would be built into their new build named Mālama.
Mālama was designed by Verdier, a prolific group of designers that have penned three of the five IMOCAs racing in this edition. The boat launched in August of 2021, and they have put plenty of miles under the keel since then. Testing both crew and boat in that time, 11th Hour Racing should be not only the most reliable of boats, but also the boat best prepared for the course. They have tried several different foil designs, learned the weak points of the design and even the best way to manage crew in the small space of an IMOCA. 11th Hour Racing are certainly the favourite coming into this first leg, but with great expectation comes great pressure. Let’s hope it doesn’t get to them.
Skipper Charlie Enright and team CEO Mark Towill have assembled a team full of talent. Starting with Charlie, co-founder of the team, who has two Ocean Race campaigns behind him at the age of 36 onboard Alvimedica in 2014/15 and Vestas 11th Hour in 2017/18.
Navigator Simon Fisher is one of the best-known names in the sport, with five Ocean Races behind him, including a win in 2014/15. Easily the most experienced Ocean Race sailor to start this edition, SiFi as he is known, took a step into the world of shorthanded sailing in 2021, racing the Transat Jacques Vabre onboard 11th Hour Racing’s first IMOCA, Alaka’i.
Watch Leader Jack Bouttell has experience across multiple classes with four La Solitaire du Figaro campaigns, two Trophée Jules Verne attempts and two Ocean Race campaigns, including one win with Dongfeng in 2017/18.
Skipper of her own IMOCA, Teamwork.net, Justine Mettraux will be taking time away from her Vendée Globe campaign to race with 11th Hour. Justine has two Ocean Races under her belt, with Team SCA in 2014/15 and winning with Dongfeng in 2017/18, as well as a host of solo accolades including the last Route du Rhum and a number of La Solitaire du Figaro entries.
Francesca Clapcich is a two-time Olympic sailor and competed in the last Ocean Race onboard Turn The Tide on Plastic. A multi–World Championship winner sailor, Francesca has proved she can make the step from dinghies into ocean racing.
GUYOT environnement – Team Europe
The oldest boat in the fleet, but one I know very well. Benjamin Dutreux has teamed up with Offshore Team Germany onboard my old boat, HUGO BOSS 6.
Launched in 2015 and helping me to second place in the 2016/17 Vendée Globe, Benjamin’s VPLP/Verdier designed IMOCA has undergone a lot of work since we sold her on – initially to 11th Hour Racing, who then sold her to Benjamin and team.
GUYOT environnement has since been modified to include larger foils and the associated extra structure needed to accommodate the increased loads involved. GUYOT environnement should be on the more reliable end of the spectrum, having sailed thousands of miles since launch, giving the various owners opportunities to resolve any problems that have shown themselves.
Benjamin and co-skipper Robert Stanjek have assembled a strong team including Olympic sailors, Vendée finishers and Fastnet winners.
Benjamin Dutreux raced in the Figaro fleet for several years before moving into the IMOCA class in 2019 – also in one of my old boats, HUGO BOSS 4. One of the biggest surprises in the last Vendée Globe, Benjamin finished 9th onboard a non-foiling boat, in amongst foiling boats that should have finished a long way ahead of him.
Robert Stanjek competed in the Star class in the 2012 Olympic Games, finishing 6th. He also has two Fastnet wins to his name, in 2013 and 2015. In the Ocean Race Europe in 2021 Robert led Offshore Team Germany to an unexpected win, beating some much newer and faster boats.
A multiple-time World Sailing match racing champion and 2012 Olympian, Annie Lush continues her move into ocean racing. Annie joined Team SCA in the 2014/15 Ocean Race and won the Ocean Race Europe with Offshore Team Germany in 2021.
Spanish sailor Támara Echegoyen won gold in the 2012 Olympic Games in the Elliott 6m Class. In 2018 she competed in The Ocean Race with MAPFRE, finishing second overall.
Vendée Globe entrant in 2020, Sébastien Simon will return to the IMOCA fleet for The Ocean Race. In 2018 Sébastien won the coveted La Solitaire du Figaro and then moved into the IMOCA class for the 2020 Vendée Globe, where he had to retire early due to a collision with a UFO.
Paul Meilhat’s BIOTHERM was the latest IMOCA to launch, just five months ago. In a fleet where every day of training counts, it would seem BIOTHERM are up against it.
Despite that, Paul had an impressive showing in the Route du Rhum back in November, pushing his way to sixth place in a boat barely out of the shed. Laser-focused, Paul has an amazing ability to push, even when you think he couldn’t possibly have any more left. The speed he showed in the Route du Rhum last year could be a good sign, if the boat is reliable then the team really could be in for a decent result. However, that all-important reliability usually comes with miles sailed, something BIOTHERM is left wanting.
Paul has put together a strong team from all walks of sailing life including the Vendée Globe, Ocean Race and America’s Cup. Paul himself is no stranger to the IMOCA class, having won the 2018 Route du Rhum on top of a handful of other wins in the seasons prior. Unable to find sponsorship for the 2020 Vendée, he had to sit it out and follow from the side lines. But now he’s back with a new sponsor and new boat.
Amélie Grassi is a relative newcomer to professional sailing. Amélie finished 8th in the 2019 Mini Transat, taking the title of the first woman. Since then, she moved into the bigger Class 40, finishing 9th in the 2021 Transat Jacques Vabre.
Anthony Marchand is an Ocean Race and Ultim veteran. Competing with MAPFRE in the 2014/15 edition of The Ocean Race, Anthony showed his ability to step away from solo sailing and into the world of fully crewed racing. Since then, he has built up many miles on a whole host of boats, including Actual Ultim 3, the offshore foiling monster trimaran.
Damien Seguin had one of the most amazing Vendée Globes in 2020. Damien was born without a left hand and established a successful Paralympic career leading to three medals; two gold and one silver. Damien made the move into offshore sailing, first in the Figaro and Class 40 classes, and then into the world of IMOCAs. He was the first sailor on a non-foiling boat to finish the Vendée Globe in 2020 and the first disabled sailor to ever finish the ‘Everest of Sailing’.
Holcim – PRB
Holcim – PRB, designed by Verdier, was launched in May last year for skipper Kevin Escoffier. Known as ‘Mr Fix It’, Kevin is regarded as one of the best minds in ocean racing at the moment – an expert in engineering, technically very accomplished, extremely focused and a fantastic sailor, it seems he has it all.
Kevin was watch captain for Dongfeng during the 2017/18 edition of The Ocean Race, helping to lead the team to victory. He’s put together a team of extremely experienced short-handed sailors, contrary to the philosophy of a few of the other teams. It could be the right way to go with less people onboard than in previous editions.
Joining Kevin on the race will be Sam Goodchild, one of the most promising British sailing talents on the water right now. Sam has a wealth of experience across different classes with multiple La Solitaire du Figaro campaigns, Transat Jacques Vabres and Route du Rhums in IMOCA, Class 40 and Ocean Fifty as well as experience in the giant Ultim fleet with Sodebo and Spindrift 2.
Fellow Brit Abby Ehler will also be onboard. Abby has three Ocean Race campaigns to her name including 2014/15 with Team SCA and 2017/18 with Team Brunel. She is incredibly adept technically, having worked in both the America’s Cup and Sail GP circuits.
Fabien Delahaye comes with Ocean Race experience, also being a part of the 2017/18 Dongfeng crew. Called up to replace an injured crewmember, Fabien added the win to a long list of achievements including a Transat Jacques Vabre win in Class 40, and a second place in La Solitaire du Figaro.
One of the youngest sailors in the fleet, but also one of the most promising names in offshore sailing right now, Tom Laperche will join Holcim – PRB for The Ocean Race. Tom joined Vendée Globe winner François Gabart on his Ultim SVR Lazartigue for the 2021 Transat Jacques Vabre where they finished second. Then last year at the age of just 25, Tom won La Solitaire du Figaro, an event widely seen as the ‘world championship’ of solo offshore racing.
Susan Beucke is a fellow Figaro sailor bringing solo racing experience, but also plenty of dinghy sailing talent. Winning silver in the 2020 Olympics to add to her double European championship titles in the 49er FX class, Susan is another talented sailor to make the move from dinghies into offshore racing.
Headed by my good friend Boris Herrmann, Team Malizia launched in July last year ready for the Route du Rhum. Designed by VPLP, Malizia is a completely new concept rather than built from the moulds of a previous boat as most of the new builds have been recently.
Being a new design, it presents its own set of challenges that other new-builds may not encounter – designs that will be well known and any issues ironed out long before the second boat is built. It takes time to get a new design to a stage where it is reliable but being surrounded by an experienced team both on the water and ashore, I know Team Malizia will be on top of things before long.
The design has plenty of rocker – effectively the curve of the hull if you look at it from the side; this should help lift the bow out of the water better. From what I have heard, the boat is very strong downwind in big waves which could be a great asset in the long Southern Ocean leg between Cape Town and Itajaí.
Joining Boris onboard is a mixed crew with experience in a lot of different areas. Brit Will Harris has been involved in the Malizia project for a long time. Will is an experienced navigator and meteorologist with a number of years in the Figaro fleet behind him. In 2019 he joined Boris for the Transat Jacques Vabre and has been with the team since then.
A legend of the IMOCA fleet, Yann Eliès was a surprise announcement recently. Yann’s list of achievements is endless – three La Solitaire du Figaro wins, three Transat Jacques Vabre wins, two Trophée Jules Verne attempts, two Vendée Globe starts. The list goes on! Easily one of the best sailors on the planet, if you put Yann on the tiller, the boat will go fast.
Nicolas Lunven is another legend of French solo sailing. Two-time winner of La Solitaire du Figaro – winning his first at the age of 26 in a fleet that included Michel Desjoyeaux, Jeremie Beyou, Yann Eliès and Armel Le Cléac’h. Having raced in the 2014/15 edition of The Ocean Race and also sailed plenty of miles in the IMOCA fleet, Nicolas knows what is needed to succeed in this race.
Rosalin Kuiper takes the start of her first Ocean Race having vowed to be on the start line seven years ago. Rosalin has built up thousands of miles in a number of different boats and races, including the Ocean Race Europe onboard a Volvo 65.
Axelle Pillain decided to step away from medical school, after having completed a PhD, and into the world of professional sailing. She competed in the 2019 Mini Transat and has since been involved shore side in projects in the IMOCA and Ultim classes.
Depth of talent
Every boat has a depth of talent that only a race like The Ocean Race can attract. Over the next six months or so, we will see each and every one of these sailors pushed to their limits onboard some of the most technically advanced offshore sailing boats on the planet.
It is incredibly difficult to figure out a ranking at the moment, with the majority of the teams only coming together in the last few months. I will say, however, the most obvious favourite must be 11th Hour Racing. They’ve sailed together as a team for years now, know their boat inside and out, and should be the most reliable.