2022-23 ROUTE PREVIEW BY 11TH HOUR RACING TEAM

The course for the 2022-23 edition of The Ocean Race includes the longest leg in the race’s 50-year history. A 12,750-nautical mile one-month marathon from Cape Town, South Africa, around the bottom of the world to Itajaí, Brazil.

This route is made up of seven legs with stopovers in eight cities (and a fly-by in Kiel.Sailing.City) around the world. It starts in Alicante, Spain and finishes in Genova, Italy in June.

This is one of the toughest human endeavors on the planet… so what exactly do our sailors face as they embark on this incredible adventure? Find out more with this route preview.

Leg 1

Alicante, Spain to Mindelo, Cabo Verde
Start: January 15
Expected time of arrival (ETA): January 22
Distance: 1,900 nautical miles (2,186 miles/3,519 kilometers)

They say that every great journey begins with one small step. At 1,900 nautical miles (2,186-miles/3,519-kilometers) the opening leg of the 32,000-nautical mile (36,825-mile/59,000-kilometer) around-the-world route for The Ocean Race 2022-23 is – in comparative terms, at least – just that.

However, although the passage from Alicante to Mindelo on São Vicente in the Cabo Verde islands may be a short one compared with other multi-week legs later in the race, the predicted seven-day sprint will be full of challenges for the 11th Hour Racing Team sailors.

After completing the inshore section of the leg start along the shoreline off Alicante the fleet heads off past the nearby Tabarca Island which sits in the middle of Spain’s oldest marine reserve. Established 33 years ago, the reserve covers an area of 1,754 hectares and is renowned for the quality of its Posidonia oceanica seagrass beds.

The 11th Hour Racing Team’s first hurdle will be how to chart the fastest route across the Mediterranean from Alicante to the inland sea’s bottleneck exit at the Strait of Gibraltar. The Med’s mid-January weather can be unpredictable and the chances of encountering persistent light winds and/or winter storms are equally likely.

In the case of stormy conditions the Mālama crew will be focused on making the fastest most direct route to Gibraltar without damage to the boat or themselves. Balancing the urge to push to the limit with the need to protect the equipment and crew will be key. The old, old, adage that ‘you cannot win The Ocean Race on the first leg, but you can lose it’ will be uppermost in their minds.

If lighter winds prevail the challenge will be how best to pick a way through the inevitable wind holes that will be littering the racecourse – particularly at night. In those conditions the fastest route may not be the shortest and we may see the crews diverting along the Spanish or north African coasts in search of localized streams of breeze.

Negotiating the 52-nautical mile (60-mile/96-kilometer) Strait of Gibraltar is never an easy task even in the best of conditions. The gap between the Spanish and African land masses is just 14 miles (23 kilometers) and this funneling effect can dramatically ramp up the velocity of the wind and the tidal flow. Screaming winds up to 50 knots (58 miles per hour / 93 kilometers per hour and a massive sea state are commonplace.

Add to all that the fact that the Gibraltar gateway to the Atlantic is also renowned as one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world. The crew will need to be wary here of incurring a penalty for straying into virtual exclusion zones prescribed by the The Ocean Race organizers to keep the competing yachts away from the busiest traffic.  

Once out into the open expanses of the North Atlantic the decision facing the 11th Hour Racing Team crew will be whether to push west in search of stronger winds offshore – or to take a more direct route by diving south along the Moroccan coast.

Although the open expanses of the Atlantic should mean the sailors can start to get into a rhythm they will soon have to negotiate their way past or through the Spanish Canary Islands archipelago off the coast of Western Sahara where advantage can be gained in accelerated winds between the islands or lost in the enormous wind shadows caused by the mountainous topography.

The last section of the leg will be all about lining up the fastest angle to approach to the Cape Verde islands and in particular the finish line off Mindelo on São Vicente.

99 percent water and one percent land, the Cabo Verde Republic – one of the world’s top 10 biodiversity locations – is an archipelago made up of 10 volcanic islands and five smaller islets. 

Those towering volcanic islands could mean that the final approach to Mindelo could prove difficult as the area is renowned for light and flukey winds close to shore – particularly at night – and the standings amongst the five IMOCAs could easily be shuffled in the last few hours of the leg.

 

Leg 2

Mindelo, Cabo Verde to Cape Town, South Africa
Start: January 25, 2023
ETA: February 9, 2023
Distance: 4,600 nautical miles (5,294 miles/8,519 kilometers)  

The second leg of The Ocean Race 2022-23 takes the yachts south from the Cabo Verde islands, across the Equator into the southern hemisphere on the way to South Africa’s Cape Town close to the southern tip of the African continent. 

Much of the leg is expected to be sailed in trade winds. These are the strong and reliable east to west breezes that prevail north and south of the equator. 

Trade winds are generated by the constant cycle of warm moist air that rises over the Equator and cooler air closer to the Earth’s two polar regions that sinks. 

The spin of weather systems on Earth – anti-clockwise in the northern hemisphere and clockwise in the southern hemisphere – means that trade winds north of the Equator blow predominantly from the northeast, while south of the Equator they come from the southeast.

After carefully plotting a route out of Mindelo and away from the Cape Verde archipelago – avoiding the islands’ massive wind shadows that can stretch tens of miles downwind – the 11th Hour Racing Team crew will aim to quickly hook into northeasterly trade winds to power them south towards the equator.

However, crossing the Equator by yacht is a far from straightforward process that involves finding a smooth pass through an area called the Doldrums – a humid band of unpredictable weather that sits either side of the Equator.

Caused by the fast rising hot air over the Equator, in meteorological speak the Doldrums is referred to as the Inter-tropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ). Although it is best known for its windless flat calm conditions that can immobilize a racing yacht for days at a time, Doldrums weather can also feature sudden intense wind squalls, heavy rain showers, and even powerful thunderstorms.  

The ideal place to cross the Doldrums is a moveable target that very much depends on the weather models at the time, however there the perceived wisdom amongst ocean racers is that often ‘west is best’. As a result, there is a chance we could see The Ocean Race fleet taking a circuitous route close to the coast of Brazil on the way to Cape Town.

Once across the Equator and into the southern hemisphere trade winds the 11th Hour Racing Team crew will be focused on maximizing boat speed by finding the optimum wind angle for Mālama’s high-tech foils to do their job.

The direct route to Cape Town is blocked by a large transient light wind high pressure system known as the St Helena High which will force the yachts to push deep into the South Atlantic before making the easterly turn towards Cape Town.

Often the crews will try to time their turn to coincide with one of the fast moving low pressure storm systems that spin up over the South American landmass before hurtling eastward over the ocean. Catching a ride on one of these storms – or not – can quickly mean the difference between a 100 mile gain or loss and this is where we can expect to see some of the fastest top speeds and longest 24-hour distance runs.

The final approach to Cape Town can often be a windy affair as the hot air rising over the African interior sucks in strong thermal winds from the ocean. The city’s iconic Table Mountain makes a spectacular backdrop but the crews will need to be wary of its windshadow as they negotiate the final miles to the finish line off the Victoria and Albert Waterfront.


Leg 3

Cape Town, South Africa to Itajaí, Brazil
Start: February 26, 2023
ETA: April 1, 2023
Distance: 12,750 nautical miles (14,672 miles/23,613 kilometers) 

Leg 4 of The Ocean Race 2022-23 from Cape Town, South Africa to Itajaí, Brazil is the first of the race’s two double-points scoring stages and takes the fleet on a monstrously long 12,750-nautical mile (14,672-mile/23,613-kilometer) – passage around the bottom of the world.

It is the longest ever leg in The Ocean Race history and is expected to take the teams almost five weeks to complete with the crews passing south of all three of the world’s southernmost capes: South Africa’s Cape of Good Hope; Australia’s Cape Leeuwin; and Chile’s Cape Horn off the southern tip of South America.

Points will be awarded based both on the order the boats cross the line of Longitude 143° East as they pass south of Australia, and on their finishing position in Itajaí.

The majority of the leg will be spent in the Southern Ocean – a vast and lonely expanse of open water beginning at 60° South and bordered by Antarctica in the south that forms an uninterrupted band around the bottom of the world. 

Ravaged nonstop by vicious storms that circle the globe unimpeded, the Southern Ocean is notorious for the world’s strongest winds and largest waves – to say nothing of freezing air and water temperatures, as well as icy rain, sleet, and even snow. A more remote and inhospitable part of the world is hard to imagine.

Aside from the challenge of taking on such a hazardous passage the 11th Hour Racing Team crew will be painfully aware of the need to balance the desire to score the maximum points possible with the need to avoid injuring themselves or causing any serious damage to Mālama. A major breakdown deep in the Southern Ocean could prove to be hugely costly – both in terms of lost points and reduced repair time in Brazil.

After leaving Cape Town’s Table Bay the fleet will head south to round South Africa’s Cape of Good Hope. Crossing the meandering Agulhas Current can often be a tricky affair as the fast flowing ocean stream kicks up an unpredictable and unpleasant sea state. 

From there the goal will be to get south as quickly as possible to minimize the number of miles sailed around the bottom of the world. The closer to the bottom of the globe the boats go, the shorter the circumference of the circular route they will have to sail, however the race organizers will likely set a virtual southern limit to keep the yachts north of the iceberg zone.

For most of Leg three the teams will be so far from civilization that any realistic chance of assistance is likely to come from a fellow-competitor. Along the way the fleet will race close to Point Nemo – a virtual waypoint calculated to be the furthest place on the planet from land, where the nearest human beings are the astronauts in the International Space Station around 250 miles (400 kilometers) over their heads.

The importance of the Southern Ocean to the fine balance of the world’s climate system cannot be underestimated. As well as acting as a huge heatsink for the planet, the waters around the bottom of the globe also absorb huge amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. 

Yet, because of its remoteness, little is known about the area in scientific terms – a problem The Ocean Race teams are helping to solve. Equipment carried aboard and deployed from the racing yachts records vital data about the temperature, salinity, and plastic content of the waters there – information that scientists can use to build a better informed picture of the world’s climate scenario.  

After making their way three quarters of the way around the base of the world eventually the crews can turn north towards the exit to the Southern Ocean at Cape Horn – the world’s southernmost cape. 

For mariners, a Cape Horn rounding is the stuff of legends and passing the lighthouse on Hornos Island on the remote and rocky Tierra del Fuego archipelago is a moment that no sailor ever forgets. 

There will likely be some degree of relief amongst the teams to have left the Southern Ocean behind but there will be no time for relaxing or throttling back as the northerly route up the eastern seaboard of South America is no easy passage and previous editions of the race have seen the leg won and lost here.

Depending on the weather conditions, a decision will need to be made whether to pass inside or outside of the Falkland Islands archipelago and the crews will need to remain vigilant for sudden, strong, katabatic winds that can descend from the skyscraping peaks of Chile’s Andes mountain range.

The fleet will race along the coasts of Uruguay and Brazil on the way to the finish outside the Itajaí-Açu River where light winds can once more be an issue as the yachts approach the land.


Leg 4 

Itajaí, Brazil to Newport, Rhode Island
Start: April 23, 2023
ETA: May 10, 2023
Distance: 5,550-nautical mile (6,387-mile/10,279-kilometers)

The 5,550-nautical mile (6,387-mile/10,279- kilometer) fourth leg of The Ocean Race 2022-23 is a complex northerly passage that takes the teams back into the northern hemisphere on the way from Itajaí, Brazil to 11th Hour Racing Team’s US base in Newport, Rhode Island. 

Picking a route north from Itajaí could be a challenging one for the teams’ navigators who may have to choose between betting on heading east in search of steadier winds well offshore or taking a more direct route along the Brazilian coast as far as the country’s northeast shoulder close to the city of Recife.

As well as finding the best winds the crews will likely also have to deal with huge fields of Sargassum seaweed blocking their path to the north. Formed by fronds of the brown free-floating weed binding together these Sargassum patches can be acres across and have been known to be three feet deep.

Avoiding getting caught up in one will be top of mind for the crews who know that the only way to detach the weed from their yacht’s rudders and foils is to stop and back the boat up – an manoeuvre that can be costly in terms of precious time lost to their rivals. 

In previous races the effects of the Doldrums have been minimal while crossing back into the northern hemisphere but the crews know that nothing is guaranteed and they will need to be on top of their game to ensure a smooth passage across the Equator.

From there the crews can look forward to some warm-weather trade wind sailing as they pass east of the Caribbean islands and start to close on the North American seaboard where the effects of the northerly flowing warm waters Gulf Stream will become a factor.

Picking the right time to cross the stream on the approach to Newport will be critical and depending on the wind conditions the crews could be in for a bumpy ride for the few hours it takes.

Previous editions of The Ocean Race have seen light wind finishes on this route and no matter how familiar these waters may be to them the 11th Hour Racing Team sailors will be taking nothing for granted until Mālama’s bow crosses the finish line off Newport’s Fort Adams State Park.


Leg 5

Newport, Rhode Island to Aarhus, Denmark
Start: May 23, 2023
ETA: May 30, 2023
Distance: 3,500 nautical miles (4,028 miles/6,482 kilometers)

The fifth leg of The Ocean Race 2022-23 is a week-long 3,500-nautical mile, (4,028-mile/6,482-kilometer) transatlantic sprint from Newport, Rhode Island to the Danish city of Aarhus and is the second of the race’s two double-points scoring stages.

In the same way that Leg 3 from South Africa to Brazil saw the 11th Hour Racing team crew racing around the bottom of the planet, on Leg 5 they will be racing around its upper reaches close to the Arctic Circle.

The Atlantic crossing is the race’s final open ocean leg and marks The Ocean Race fleet’s return to Europe for the first time since leaving Alicante, Spain on the opening leg on January 15. Traditionally it is a fast and furious affair with the teams pushing all out for precious points at this key stage of their race around-the-world.

After another bone-shaking ride across the Gulf Stream soon after leaving Newport the crews are likely to head north on a ‘Great Circle’ route – the shortest path between two points on the earth’s surface – taking them past the Canadian maritime province of Nova Scotia and past Newfoundland’s Grand Banks sub-marine plain as they head northwest towards the tip of Greenland – the world’s largest island.

Once again – as on Leg 3 in the deep south – the race organizers are likely to impose a virtual exclusion zone to the north to protect the fleet from the threat of icebergs.

The route takes the fleet across the top of Scotland and past the Scottish outcrop of Muckle Flugga in the Shetland Islands – once the the most northerly inhabited part of the British Isles – before what is expected to be a fast blast across the cold and lumpy across the North Sea to Skagen at the very northern tip of Denmark’s Jutland peninsula.

There, the crews will turn their bows south and head down through the Kattegat Sea and the finish line in Aarhus. Depending on the conditions and the strength of the tides the quickest strategy over this final stage could be the direct route – or, in lighter winds, a coastal track taking advantage of local wind systems close to shore.


Leg 6

Aarhus, Denmark to The Hague, Netherlands
Start: June 3, 2023
ETA: June 11, 2023
Distance: 800 nautical miles (921 miles/1,482 kilometers)

Leg 6 – the penultimate stage of The Ocean Race 2022-23 – is an estimated eight-day 800-nautical mile (921-mile/1,482-kilometer) coastal passage from Aarhus, Denmark to Netherlands city The Hague – via a no stop flyby visit to the German port of Kiel. 

Although it is by far the shortest passage of the around-the-world race, Leg 6 is far from straightforward and will almost certainly prove to be as challenging as any of the others.

Particularly tricky will be the fact that much of the leg will be sailed close to shore where understanding the patterns of local weather systems and currents could make the difference between success and failure. 

Based on the prevailing weather the race organizers will choose between two possible routes: the shortest passing under the Storebæltsforbindelsen (Great Belt Bridge) between Denmark’s Zealand and Funen islands; or a longer option is to send the fleet further by by way of the Øresund Bridge between Denmark to Sweden.

With the fleet scheduled to round a turning mark close in Kiel’s harbor there could be a compression in the fleet as the crews pick their way in and out of the Bay of Kiel – venue for the 1936 and 1972 Olympic regattas.

From there the fleet will head north passing Aarhus once again before entering the North Sea at Skagen – Denmark’s most northerly town.

Once again, depending on the weather systems in play at the time, the crews may have to choose between heading offshore for stronger steadier winds, or taking a more direct route closer to the shore.

The North Sea is famously shallow and in the case of strong winds can kick up a horrible sea state that will – as well as making for an unpleasant on board experience – require the crews to be on guard against damage to their boats. 

Whichever route they choose there is likely to be little in the way of sleep for the sailors as they weave their way between sandbanks, race imposed exclusion zones and the multitude of oil rigs and wind farms that populate the area.

Given the flat local topography around The Hague the teams could be fortunate enough to keep a steady breeze all the way to the finish line off the city’s extensive beachfront.

 

Leg 8

 

The Hague, Netherlands to Genoa, Italy
Start: June 15, 2023
ETA: June 25, 2023
Distance: 2,200 nautical miles (2,532 mile/4,074 kilometers)

Leg 7 – the final stage of The Ocean Race 2022-23 around the world – sees the teams battle it out over a 10-day 2,200-nautical mile (2,532-mile/4,074-kilometer) passage from Aarhus, Denmark to the Italian city of Genoa.

As is fitting for the concluding stage of a six-month race whose competitors have circumnavigated the planet Leg 7 looks likely to deliver a wide range of sailing conditions, including coastal, open ocean, and inland sea sailing.

There will be little let up on the pressure the crews are under throughout the 10 days they are at sea and depending on the points tally by then the crews will either be racing for pride or perhaps with a hope of overall victory.

The opening stage of the race takes the yachts along the Netherlands and Belgian coastline before reaching the French city of Calais which marks the easterly end of the 350-mile English Channel between France and the United Kingdom.

The crews will likely work their way along the French coast, cheating tide and dodging rocks, as well as staying clear of the English Channel shipping lanes – which officially rank as the busiest in the world – to exit the channel at the French island of Ushant.

Once out of the confines of the English Channel the course takes the fleet across the Bay of Biscay – a stretch of water which is bordered by France in the east and Spain in the south, and that can in stormy weather produce a boat-breaking seastate. 11th Hour Racing Team sailors Simon Fisher (GBR) and Justine Mettraux (SUI) know that all too well having been dismasted aboard the team’s first IMOCA Alaca’i just north of Spain’s Cape Finisterre during the Transat Jacques Vabre double-handed transatlantic race in 2021.  

Once out of the Bay of Biscay at La Coruña​​​ on the northwest shoulder of Spain the fleet will head south down the Spanish and the Portuguese Atlantic coasts, passing Lisbon on the way to an easterly turn along Portugal’s south coast towards the Strait of Gibraltar – gateway to the Mediterranean waters which the the teams last saw in January soon after the start of Leg 1.

Just as back then on the way out the teams can expect to encounter strong winds and punishing seas on their approach and passage through the strait. Care will once again need to be given to avoid any race-imposed exclusion zones and to respect the rules applying to crossing shipping lanes.

Once through and into the flatter waters of the western Mediterranean the teams will aim to head northeast towards the leg finish Genova. A direct route may be possible but with summer weather in the Mediterranean typically calling for light and fickle winds the fastest option may once again be to head for the coast to pick up thermal breezes close to shore.

Along the way the fleet will pass the Balearic Islands of Ibiza, Mallorca, and Minorca before entering the final section of the leg across the Ligurian Sea past the Spanish, French and Italian coasts on the approach to Genoa

The waters of the Gulf of Genoa are renowned for light winds in the summer – especially at night – meaning nothing will be certain until the finish line is crossed – a daunting prospect for the by then weary sailors who have just raced a complete lap of the planet.