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Offshore Team Germany Hold Their Nerve to Claim Leg 3 IMOCA Class Victory in The Ocean Race Europe

17th June 2021
Offshore Team Germany boat at sail in Genoa
Made in Germany, victorious in Italy: the Offshore Team Germany boat at sail in Genoa Credit: Sailing Energy/The Ocean Race

Offshore Team Germany — the non-foiling IMOCA 60 skippered by German Olympian Robert Stanjek — has pulled off a spectacular victory in the third and final offshore leg of The Ocean Race Europe.

After almost four days of racing since leaving Alicante, Spain on Sunday afternoon (13 June), the German team arrived in Genoa, Italy at 0936 UTC today, Thursday 17 June, having taken full advantage of their yacht’s superior light-wind performance compared to the four other foil-equipped entries.

Stanjek and his crew — navigator Benjamin Dutreux (FRA), Annie Lush (GBR), Phillip Kasüske (GER) and onboard reporter Felix Diemer (GER) — made an early split away from the rest of the fleet when they headed north soon after leaving Alicante.

At the same time, the four foiling IMOCAs — Charlie Enright’s 11th Hour Racing Team (USA), Louis Burton’s Bureau Vallée (FRA), Nicolas Troussel’s CORUM L’Épargne (FRA) and Thomas Ruyant’s LinkedOut (FRA) — elected to stay closely grouped on a more south-easterly route over the first 48 hours.

Despite some slowdowns in the light and patchy winds around the Balearic Islands, Offshore Team Germany were mostly able to make steady progress along the 600-nautical-mile course and at one point had opened up a close to 100nm lead over the chasing pack.

Mirpuri Foundation Racing Team celebrate their Leg 3 victory in the dock at Genoa | Credit: Sailing Energy/The Ocean RaceMirpuri Foundation Racing Team celebrate their Leg 3 victory in the dock at Genoa | Credit: Sailing Energy/The Ocean Race

That lead was eroded considerably in the last 36 hours as the foilers found some stronger breeze that allowed them to sail closer to their true potential. But when the German entry crossed the line in the Gulf of Genoa this morning, the chasing pack was still over 20nm away.

“Actually, it was not our plan to escape from the fleet, but sometimes things turn out a bit different than your plan it,” Stanjek said. “All our routings were north of the Balearics and so this was, for us, a clear call — and I thought some other teams would decide the same.

“We climbed up the Spanish coastline north and then we found a lane offshore with good pressure, and all of a sudden we lifted from the fleet like crazy. Within five or six hours the split was so massive and for us it was a gift. Since that moment, we were aware that we have to sail our own race because the difference between the fleet and us was already 50 miles.

“But this race was about so much more than the hardware,” Stanjek said. “I think one of the key factors to me was Benjamin [Dutreux] in this race. He’s a very good navigator, very clear and tough strategist. I think we both worked well together. It was probably me doing a little bit more the risk management on his advice — but he did a great, great job.

“And the whole team also stayed focused and awake. We had difficult parts in the race where everyone closed in, and we had no breeze at all. Sailing upwind in an IMOCA in three knots is not really fun.

“This is just the start of… let’s call it a second career. I’m not a standard offshore sailor. I’ve raced in the Olympic classes for a long, long time. But after the Olympics, I started to enjoy offshore sailing. So I hope this race will bring us closer to the start to the next Ocean Race. I can’t actually wait to to get to the starting line.”

Second place in the IMOCAs went to the blue-hulled LinkedOut, whose skipper Thomas Ruyant had been downbeat before the leg about his boat’s chances of performing well in the forecast ultra-light wind passage.

Nevertheless, Ruyant’s crew, who led the fleet offshore last night in search of more wind, were today able to overhaul the American 11th Hour Racing Team in a drag race on the approach to Genoa.

As the wind dropped away closer to shore, LinkedOut slipped across the Leg 3 finish line at a sedate seven knots with 11th Hour Racing Team completing the IMOCA podium places just minutes later.

Nearly three hours would pass before the two remaining IMOCAs crossed the line, with less than three minutes separating Bureau Vallée in fourth place and CORUM L’Epargne in fifth.

LinkedOut’s crew are all smiles at their second-place finish in the IMOCA 60 class | Credit: Sailing Energy/The Ocean RaceLinkedOut’s crew are all smiles at their second-place finish in the IMOCA 60 class | Credit: Sailing Energy/The Ocean Race

The points awarded to the top three IMOCA finishers in this leg mean that each of Germany, LinkedOut and 11th Hour Racing Team will have an opportunity to win The Ocean Race Europe with the right result in the Coastal Race on Saturday.

Earlier today, it was the Mirpuri Foundation Racing Team earning a spectacular come from behind win in the VO65 class over AkzoNobel Ocean Racing and Sailing Poland.

It was pitch black in Genoa when the Portuguese team, led by eminent French offshore skipper Yoann Richomme, finished the leg at 22:51:57 UTC late Wednesday night, after around three-and-a-half days of racing.

Hours earlier, Richomme’s crew — who started leg three tied on 11 points with AkzoNobel Ocean Racing at the top of the VO65 leaderboard — had been in third place, 10nm behind the longtime fleet leader Sailing Poland (POL), skippered by Bouwe Bekking (NED), and four nautical miles adrift of the second placed Netherlands entry Team Childhood I, led by Dutchman Simeon Tienpont.

Sensing that the breeze along the Italian coast would fade away as night fell, the Portuguese team made the bold decision to tack away from the fleet in search of new wind further offshore. It was a move that looked risky initially, especially given that their heading initially appeared to be taking them away from the finish line.

11th Hour Racing Team on the final approach | Credit: Sailing Energy/The Ocean Race11th Hour Racing Team on the final approach | Credit: Sailing Energy/The Ocean Race

Ultimately, though, the gambit paid huge dividends as they were eventually able to tack back towards Genoa in the best breeze of the evening, and within a couple of hours had leapfrogged themselves into the lead.

“What a comeback!” Richomme exclaimed shortly after the finish. “A crazy, crazy leg — it felt like two weeks of sailing. We fought hard. We knew that until the finish it wouldn’t be over because Genova is complicated. It’s more of a game of chess in these conditions than proper sailing.

“The crew was amazing, we kept on fighting all the way, very calm. Team Poland moved into the lead with a tiny move near Mallorca and we thought we would never get them back.

“But we knew there was a little move to do in the Gulf of Genoa. We knew it was the favoured side, but then all the others kept on moving inside the bay. We thought it wasn’t going to happen for us and then suddenly things turned.

“We knew we were in the right position, but we didn’t expect to overtake Team Poland and win it — we thought we would be fighting for second.”

Also benefitting from the offshore route was Chris Nicholson’s AkzoNobel Ocean Racing. The Netherlands team was in fifth place before heading offshore in parallel with Mirpuri, but soon moved up to second as the new breeze brought them powering in from the southeast at speeds over 13 knots, overtaking Erik Brockmann’s Viva México (MEX), Team Childhood I and Sailing Poland to take second place.

“This was a big relief,” Nicholson said moments after stepping off the AkzoNobel boat. “We got ourselves behind early on in this leg and when that happens all you hope for is another chance. Fortunately, there was plenty of opportunity to be had today and we grabbed hold of several of them.

“There was plenty of thought that went into it. Our routing and everything we had told us to go the way we did go. But sailor’s instinct would have sent us closer to the shore. For once, I listened to the science, and in the end we chose what we thought had the best chance of success.”

In contrast to the excitement aboard the first two finishers, there will be disappointment for the Sailing Poland crew who had led the VO65s since early in the leg, but as a result of the late-stage reshuffle dropped back to third place and crossed the line just before 3am UTC.

Next was Team Childhood I some 80 minutes later, with Viva Méxio in fifth (04:46:44 UTC), Ambersail-2 in sixth (05:25:48 UTC) and tThe Austrial Ocean Race Project trailing in seven place, more than nine hours behind the leader (07:53:39 UTC).

Bureau Vallée in light airs making slow but steady progress to their forth-place finish in Genoa | Credit: Sailing Energy/The Ocean Race

Mirpuri Foundation Racing Team consolidates its position at the top of the leader board on 18 points, with AkzoNobel Ocean Racing second on 17 points.

This sets up Saturday’s final coastal race — where points will be awarded to the top three teams only (3 points for a win, 2 points for second, 1 point for third) — as a showdown to decide the overall VO65 class standings in the inaugural edition of The Ocean Race Europe.

For the weary sailors, Friday holds the promise of a quieter day of scheduled, local pro-am sailing.

But the pressure stays on as today’s results mean both the IMOCA and VO65 podium positions for The Ocean Race Europe — and the winners of The Ocean Race Europe trophy — will be decided on Saturday 19 June.

Tune into live coverage of the coastal race in Genoa on The Ocean Race YouTube and Facebook platforms as well as before 11am IST on Saturday (start time TBC).

Published in Ocean Race Team

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