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In the lead, but taking nothing for granted

by 11th Hour Racing Team 28 Apr 2023 21:26 BST
11th Hour Racing Team - The Ocean Race © Amory Ross / 11th Hour Racing / The Ocean Race

11th Hour Racing Team holds a slender and fragile lead after the first five days at sea in The Ocean Race, since the fleet was sent on its way by the exuberant and passionate people of Itajaí in the south of Brazil. As of Friday April 28, at 1300 UTC, the team is in first place, just 3.8 nautical miles (4.3 miles / 7 km) ahead of German entry, Team Malizia.

Skipper Charlie Enright (USA) and the crew had been in the throes of a tense and hard-fought duel with Kevin Escoffier's (FRA) entry Holcim-PRB when the mast on the blue-green boat from Switzerland came tumbling down. Fortunately, no one was hurt in the incident, and the dismasting occurred just 20 miles from the Brazilian coast.

While their friends and rivals work out the logistics of how they get back into the race, Enright and the 11th Hour Racing Team crew are only too aware of how quickly things can turn bad at sea. "We're very glad that everybody on Holcim is safe," said Enright. "That's the most important thing. As a competitor, you never want to see anything like that happen to anyone in a race."

As to life onboard Malama, Enright is pleased with how the crew has been working together in the early stages of what's expected to be a 17-day leg to the Ocean State of Rhode Island. In total, there are 5,500 nautical miles of hard sailing to be done between the start in the Santa-Catarina region of Brazil and the finish of this long leg up the length of the Atlantic Ocean.

All the trials and tribulations of Leg 3 - the mammoth 37 days and 20 hours through the Southern Ocean - are beginning to slip out of sight in the rear-view mirror. With more than 50% of the points still on the table, there's a renewed sense of purpose as the team looks towards the rest of the race, which will conclude in Genoa, Italy, at the end of June.

"It's pretty clear that we hit the reset button in Itajaí, and we're seeing that play out on the race course," said Enright. "Not just winning the In-Port Race, but also in the first five days of this leg. Our track shows that we're not afraid to do a little more work than everybody else! But there's a good vibe onboard and a belief that we can, and we will, succeed.

"At this stage, everything is going according to plan, and it's nice to have that mentality even though in 36 hours, much of the lead we've worked for could disappear. But that's just part of the game, and we look forward to continuing to push towards home."

There's no disguising the fact that Enright is pulling out all the stops. "In theory, almost all legs are worth the same points, but some legs mean more than others. This is a big one for us, for a host of reasons. Newport is the home of 11th Hour Racing, the home to many of our loyal supporters, and Rhode Island is my home state. There's an anticipation mounting, and everyone has visions of what sailing into Newport will be like.

"But there's a lot of ocean between here and there, and unlike many other sports, there's no home-field advantage when you're sailing through more than 5,000 miles of ocean. Maybe there will be a little local knowledge in the last 20 miles, but that's a small percentage of the overall race course that we need to traverse. Either way, it's fair to say that everyone has a little extra motivation. Onboard, we're totally okay and ready to keep pushing forward."

Trying to make sense of all the confusion and complexity of the race course between the Brazilian coast and a multitude of exclusion zones, is the team's navigator, Simon 'Si Fi' Fisher (GBR). "Having done this leg a few times before, it feels pretty familiar, and you understand the big features of the leg really well. You know where you need to be at certain points, where the critical points are, and you need to be in good shape.

"However, it doesn't feel any less stressful, and it doesn't get any easier when it comes to the clouds, the shifts, and their general randomness. You can't always control the clouds, and if you get behind it can be challenging to catch up. So while it's nice to be familiar with the leg and have confidence in decision-making, it's still hard to control the outcome. Sometimes some people get luckier than others. You certainly need to be on your toes, and these variable conditions force you to keep up the intensity in a different way compared with sailing downwind in the heavy breeze as we did on Leg 3."

Damian Foxall (IRL) has joined the team for the first time in the race as part of the pool of sailors rotating through the crew. The veteran ocean racer, with more than 450,000 nautical miles of sailing under his belt, is also the team's Sustainability Program Manager. The team is currently working its way around the Abrolhos Exclusion Zone - a 'no-go zone' put in place by the race organizers to keep the fleet away from environmentally important areas.

"The opportunity to be out here racing in the ocean and seeing the amazing bird life and marine mammals is fantastic. But this also has a risk to it - a risk in that these boats go so fast, and with the foils and the keels, there is the risk of endangering a marine mammal. So the race puts in place exclusion zones, and we have just worked our way around the Abrolhos Exclusion Zone

"I'm part of the Marine Mammal Advisory Group, and we have worked with The Ocean Race to integrate a proper risk assessment for marine mammals and marine life for each leg of the course. This involves assessing where the high levels of the marine mammal population are, and what zones are best avoided. We have one here called the Abrolhos Banks, which is one of the zones where up to 25,000 Southern Right Whales and Humpbacks come from Antarctica, where the warmer waters are, to breed. Although this is anticipated to happen in a month's time, just to be safe, the organizers have defined this exclusion zone for us to sail around.

"The exclusion zones are very specific to each leg, and Leg 4 of this edition of the race, there are quite a number due to the high level of whales we have along the coast. When we are sailing to the finish at Newport, Rhode Island, we are in the territory of the very endangered population of Northern Right Whales. Luckily we are also out of season, and they have moved away from the waters outside Narragansett Bay.

"The area has very good underwater live tracking systems, with flyovers, underwater drones, and ships all reporting sightings. And the live tracking system is updated all the time. If the mammals are seen as we approach Newport, we will be informed, and the Race Organizers will adjust our racecourse accordingly. Right now, we are doing a few extra miles for the whales, and no one has any complaints about that," Foxall concluded.

As to the fate of Holcim-PRB and their broken mast, Enright shakes his head in sorrow and sympathy for his friends heading back to shore. "I guess if there is a saving grace, it's that they're close to land. I'm sure, given who's involved and how they operate, Holcim-PRB will continue to fight and do everything in their capabilities to get back into the race in the most competitive manner possible. But you know, our thoughts go out to them.

"We have been in a similar situation. It wasn't even five years ago when Kevin, as a member of Dongfeng Race Team, sailed by us when our mast broke just a few miles after Cape Horn. Unfortunately, these things happen, even to the most well-prepared top teams. So we feel for them. It's a difficult time. But I'm sure they will find a way to persevere."

Holcim-PRB's misfortune offers a haunting reminder that things can go badly wrong in the blink of an eye, although Enright can't afford to dwell on that fact for too long. "It doesn't necessarily change the way that we are sailing Malama. We know that accidents can happen, even in benign conditions, and they may or may not find the root cause of it, which can be frustrating.

"But I've been there, and it's not always about figuring out the whys and wherefores. That's useful, but now it's more about moving on and figuring out how best to deal with the new challenges that come their way. This is going to change the complexion of not just the next two weeks, but probably three or four, if I had to guess. We wish them the best, and we hope to see them back in the race as soon as possible."

Leg 4 current positions as of Friday, April 28, 2023 1300 UTC

DTL=distance to leader

1 11th Hour Racing Team
2 Team Malizia - DTL 3.8nm
3 Guyot environnement - Team Europe - DTL 7.5nm
4 Biotherm - DTL 9.0nm
5 Holcim-PRB - suspended racing

11th Hour Racing Team Crew for Leg 4 of The Ocean Race 2022-23:

Charlie Enright (USA) - Skipper
Simon Fisher (GBR) - Navigator
Francesca Clapcich (ITA) - Trimmer
Damian Foxall (ITA) - Trimmer
Amory Ross (USA) - Media Crew Member

Overall Leaderboard: (5 points = first; 4 points = second etc.)

1 Team Holcim - PRB - 19 points (5+5+5+4)
2 Team Malizia - 14 points (3+2+4+5)
3 11th Hour Racing Team - 13 points (4+3+3+3)
4 Biotherm Racing - 10 points (2+4+2+2)
5 GUYOT environnement - Team Europe - 2 points (1+1+0+0)

Note: Leg 3 was a double pointer

The Ocean Race 2022-23 Route:

Leg 1: Alicante, Spain to Mindelo, Cabo Verde
Leg 2: Cabo Verde to Cape Town, South Africa
Leg 3: Cape Town, South Africa to Itajaí, Brazil
Leg 4: Itajaí, Brazil, to Newport, Rhode Island
Leg 5: Newport, Rhode Island to Aarhus, Denmark
Leg 6: Aarhus, Denmark to The Hague, The Netherlands (with a flyby past Kiel, Germany)
Leg 7: The Hague, The Netherlands to Genoa, Italy

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