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An interview with Charlie Enright on 11th Hour Racing Team's recent transatlantic passage

by David Schmidt 9 Sep 08:00 PDT September 9, 2020
11th Hour Racing's summer 2020 transatlantic run © Image courtesy of 11th Hour Racing/Amory Ross

The 2022-2023 edition of The Ocean Race (nee, the Volvo Ocean Race and the Whitbread Race) is still a long ways over the horizon, but this isn’t stopping skipper Charlie Enright and his 11th Hour Racing Team crew from putting in plenty of long hours and hard miles preparing for this grueling circumnavigation race. This will be Enright’s third attempt at winning this highly competitive, fully crewed stage race, and it will be 11th Hour Racing’s second time sponsoring a team (and their first "lap" as a title sponsor). But unlike Enright’s previous two Volvo Ocean Race campaigns, the team will be sailing a foiling IMOCA 60—not a displacement-mode Volvo Ocean 65—in the next edition.

The 11th Hour Racing Team acquired skipper Alex Thomson’s 2015-generation Hugo Boss IMOCA 60, which was designed by VPLP-Verdier (the same design team that drew the all-conquering Comanche, amongst other high-profile designs) and Thomson’s in-house design team ahead of the 2016 Vendee Globe. While the yacht proved quick in the Vendee Globe, Thomson suffered a broken foil and ultimately had to settle for second place in this singlehanded, non-stop-around-the-world race.

Enright and company knew that they were buying a fast ride, but they also knew that technology—specifically foiling technology—has progressed significantly since the boat was drawn. So, the team has been using the additional year of lead-up time ahead of the 2022-2023 edition of The Ocean Race—which was delayed courtesy of the pandemic—to make their steed even faster and also to learn more about IMOCA 60s before designing and building their own bespoke yacht for the race.

The 11th Hour Racing Team competed in the 2019 Transat Jacques Vabre, and much more recently they completed a transatlantic run back to their home waters of Newport, Rhode Island. Not surprisingly, the team used this passage to trail-balloon new onboard systems and equipment, all with an eye toward developing more speed and know-how ahead of The Ocean Race’s October 2022 start.

I checked in with Enright, via email, to learn more about the team’s recent transatlantic crossing and their preparations ahead of next year’s circumnavigation race.

Can you please tell us about your recent transatlantic? Did you have good conditions?

We had a good Transatlantic, much longer than we anticipated and the conditions were varied in velocity but not in true wind angle so, basically, we were upwind the whole way.

We saw a series of fronts and ridges and spent equal time on both tacks which was OK for testing. We had a new foil on port so [we] enjoyed the time we could spend on that board.

The biggest thing about this trip was the crew: the attitude, the appreciation for being out there, returning to work, returning to our passion.... Preparing for competition, albeit a long way away at this time, and just leaving the world behind - that felt good.

There is a lot going on and it isn’t lost on us by any means, but sometimes it is just nice to cut the ties, separate and focus on what you love doing.

What were your goals with the crossing? And were these accomplished?

We did a trip back from Brazil in fully crewed configuration and decided we needed to make a number of changes to the boat to make it more accommodating and also perform against the latest generations [of IMOCA 60s]. We did the Transat Jacques Vabre and finished in a very strong fourth place, but it is clear that the platform we have acquired wasn’t ready for the big time.

It was the best boat we could get at the time, but big steps were made between iterations of the Vendée Globe.

So, to keep up with the Jones’ and prepare essentially for future competition, we got a new foil and have another foil on the way. We have new boxes, new bunks, new systems, new measurement devices, data-acquisition systems—everything.

And so the plan was just to shake all that down and there is no better way to do that than a passage of significant length. And it is always good to sail home into Newport to be able to do some work with 11th Hour Racing this Fall - in their hometown and my hometown - so yes, it seemed like the most logical thing to do and we are certainly happy we did it.

What’s the bigger area of development for the team right now—sails or foils?

They really go hand in hand. You can’t have one without the other. The sails are the engine of the boat, certainly very important and there is a lot of freedom there as far as design goes with sail shapes, concepts, geometries….

We are a little bit hamstrung with what we inherited [from the boat’s previous owners], but looking forward there are some pretty big things to test there.

The foils are clearly paramount: this is really the first iteration of the Vendée Globe that boats have anticipated foiling. The boats are, for the first time, 100-percent geared towards foiling but you have a lot of different interpretations of what the best solution may be. So, until these boats line up and do a passage of significant length such as the Vendée Globe, it is going to be tough to say who was right.

Three or four naval architects are in the game now, but all the boats haven’t yet lined up for a long race against each other. The TJV was short-lived for some of them and some of them opted out of the Vendée Arctique Race, so we are watching.

Foils are a big part of the game and differences can be knots.

How much of a speed difference—factored over a transatlantic crossing—does a faster set of foils equate to? Are we talking about saved minutes, hours, or even days? Or,—like sails—are they very condition-dependent?

You are always trying to make an all-round foil of sorts but they inevitably have their strengths and weaknesses. It has a lot to do with the course or race you’re competing in - it’s horses for courses.

But at the same time no one wants to be slow at any point of sail. At the TJV we saw differences of knots - three or four sometimes five [knots]—in some of those reaching conditions. VMG—it’s a little more difficult to get the foils working efficiently for you but I can say that we had boats coming in to Brazil days ahead of other boats and foils were a big part of the reason why.

Is the plan still to build a new IMOCA 60, or are you considering ways of making your present whip fast enough to be a podium contender? Yes! We would certainly like to have a new boat at the starting line that is a product of everything we are learning on our existing boat and yes, in the meantime we are making this present ‘whip’ the fastest boat that we can.

In an ideal world it becomes a training platform and these are all learnings for future construction.

Can you tell me about your new onboard systems that are aimed at reducing plastic?

We have a number of onboard systems for this aim and a lot of it comes down to packaging. We have just been trialling a bunch of different stasher bags for provisioning, which allows us to buy in bulk and re-use a lot of our provisioning and packaging, particularly with the freeze-dried food and the daily edibles.

As you are aware, we use a watermaker so we don’t have single-use plastic water bottles onboard, and are taking water from the ocean, turning it into consumable water and that’s our only source.

I think it is an omnipresent thing throughout our team: no plastic toothbrushes and our sunglasses are made from recycled fish nets. We do everything in our power to eliminate plastic.

Do you see your new plastic-reduction system as something that you might share with the other competing boats, so as to create a fleet-wide reduction in consumed plastics?

Certainly. The stasher bags were certainly so far so good to be housing everything we need them to house. They need a little more testing, but it would be great to work with the race and be implementing a need or requirement for teams to use these products.

We have done a lot of work in the ‘waste management space’ shall we say! There are certain things you have to do on land and you have to do them on the boat as well and how you do that and how you dispose of it - I’m talking about feces here! - and we are working hard to find an eco-friendly way of disposing of our bodily [wastes].

So, eliminating our footprint is not just for the food stuff, but for every aspect of onboard life.

Anything else that you’d like to add, for the record?

To bring it back to your first question, it just felt great to be out there on the ocean and doing what we love and restarting a campaign that we have put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into.

The trip was longer than we anticipated, but with the lack of other sailing that is going on in the world, nobody felt rushed to get to the other side and that is a unique feeling. Often sailors are running [from] event to event, plane to plane, kiss my kids and on to the next event, [but this time] everybody had an appreciation for being out there, living in the present. We were going to get there when we got there and that’s certainly different from passages of the past.

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