The frenetic start out of Cape Town has set the tone for the first few days of Leg 3 of The Ocean Race 2022-23, the 12,750 nautical mile monster rollercoaster ride through the Southern Ocean. As of 1500 UTC, on Thursday, March 2, Newport, Rhode Island-based 11th Hour Racing Team currently lies in second place, 305 nautical miles off leaders Holcim-PRB.

There was no easy start to the longest Leg in the 50-year history of The Ocean Race. With the wind gusting between 0 and 40 knots, due to half the course sitting in the wind shadow of mighty Table Mountain, the five-strong IMOCA fleet had a frenetic start to the Leg. From the very first minute of racing it was battle stations, and for the five-strong crew onboard 11th Hour Racing Team’s Mālama, there has scarcely been an opportunity to draw breath in the subsequent days at sea.

Barely 30 minutes into the leg, and Skipper, Charlie Enright from Bristol, Rhode Island, felt compelled to suspend racing to replace the broken batten ends which left the mainsail flapping helplessly in the wind. Enright and his sailing crew of Navigator, Simon Fisher (GBR), Trimmers Jack Bouttell (AUS/GBR), and Justine Mettraux (SUI), along with Media Crew Member Amory Ross (USA),  had to sit out the compulsory two-hour delay for suspending racing. Fortunately, 11th Hour Racing Team was able to close the gap on the rest of the fleet quite quickly due to the tricky conditions in the first 24 hours.

Juggling a high-pressure system, and also trying to work out where the strong eddies of the Agulhas Current were flowing, there was a lot for Enright and navigator Simon ’Si Fi’ Fisher to unpick.

Team Holcim-PRB has leaped into an early lead which looks set to get even better for the Swiss crew as their small lead gets them on the up-ramp to be able to hitch a ride on a low-pressure system which could propel them all the way toward Australia. Meanwhile, for 11th Hour Racing Team, they have been held up in the light winds of a high-pressure system to the south-east of the African continent, and catching up on the leaders is looking very hard right now.

Enright and his crew are biding their time, refusing to be tempted into pushing Mālama too hard.

Speaking live to the support team this morning, Enright said, “As expected, this leg has already turned into a battle of attrition, and it’s far from being over. The first goal is you’ve got to get to Itajaí safely. It’s a very different experience from the last two times I was in the Southern Ocean with the VO65s.

“The IMOCAs are a lot more fragile, you have to throttle back all the time as the acceleration down the waves is ridiculous. Even in 10 knots of wind, we’re doing more than 30 knots down the waves, so we’ve got to reduce sail area, and do everything to slow the boat down,” Enright commented. 

“If everyone just sailed with three reefs in the mainsail and the [small] J3 headsail, you’d probably get to Itajaí OK. It’s almost a matter of finding the balance of how much you ramp up the speed, versus how much do you slow it down compared with the boat’s full potential,” he concluded.

There have already been some, thankfully minor gremlins onboard Mālama, and three other IMOCAs have all suffered damage of some kind:

Biotherm: a high-load gybe created a cascade of breakages during the inshore start of Leg 3, sending Paul Meilhat’s crew back to the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town while they suspended racing. The team spent a number of hours making repairs and sourcing replacement equipment before setting off that night, about eight hours after the start.

Guyot environnement – Team Europe: Benjamin Dutreux and his team have suspended racing and turned around, making their way back to Cape Town following signs of delamination in the hull.

Team Malizia: the German team’s first problem was when a headsail fell to the deck, resulting in it getting caught over one of the foils and ultimately being cut away before it caused further damage. In the past day, Boris Herrmann’s crew has discovered that there is a 30cm tear down the front of the mast where a headsail halyard appears to have sawn its way through the carbon fiber. Two members of the team have been more than 20 meters above the deck, making a laminate repair on the torn section of the mast, and hope to be up and running again soon.

This third leg will take the IMOCA sailors down to the Roaring Forties and Furious Fifties of the Southern Ocean. Antarctica will be to the right, and the fleet will need to pass all three great Capes – the Cape of Good Hope, Cape Leeuwin, and Cape Horn – to port, without stopping, for the first time in the history of the Race.

There are ten points up for grabs for the Leg, rather than the normal maximum of five available. The first five points will be awarded in order at which the teams cross the longitudinal line at 143 degrees east, and the second set of up to five points will be awarded in finishing order.

Speaking about the impact of the conditions on the fleet, Enright continued, “I see Biotherm slowing it down, and it’s a smart move. We’re taking it easy, particularly given Holcim is out front, and they’re going to extend their lead further. There should be some compression opportunities between now and the scoring gate at 143 degrees east.

“There’s a trough of low pressure after this, and a high sitting under the Great Australian Bight. We’re taking it one day at a time, not trying to do too much, just trying to keep it all together.

“I feel bad for the Guyot guys, it’s a wonderful boat, it’s a shame they’re having to turn round. And Boris and the guys on Malizia, we really feel for them.

“The hardest thing so far has been trying to find a rhythm which is hard to do because conditions are ever-changing. But overall the aim is just to keep it all together. The biggest mistake would be breaking something. Going slow is OK.”

11th Hour Racing Team is scheduled to arrive in Itajaí, Brazil on 1 April, 2023 before setting sail for the team’s home port of Newport, Rhode Island, USA on Leg 4 of The Ocean Race.