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The IMOCA Class prepares for fully-crewed racing in The Ocean Race Europe

by Ed Gorman / IMOCA Globe Series 26 Mar 2021 07:04 PDT
11th Hour Racing Team on a training trans-Atlantic crossing from Newport, Rhode Island, USA to Concarneau, France © Amory Ross / 11th Hour Racing

After the most exciting Vendée Globe in the event's history, the IMOCA Class is ready for its next challenge, and this time it will be fully crewed racing in the fastest offshore monohulls on the planet in the inaugural edition of The Ocean Race Europe.

For the first time the IMOCAs will race at their full potential on a tough three-stage round-Europe ocean course, starting from Lorient in Brittany and finishing in Genoa in Italy, via stopovers at Cascais in Portugal with a third stopover in Spain expected to be announced imminently.

Each boat will be sailed by up to five crew, including at least one female sailor and a media crew. In this configuration we will see IMOCAs pushed to the very limits, 24 hours-a-day in an event which is a key part of the new IMOCA Globe Series championship.

The race starts on the last weekend in May with the opening stage from Lorient to Cascais, a challenging leg that crosses the Bay of Biscay, with up to seven IMOCAs expected to be racing alongside up to seven VO65 one-design yachts but in separate classes and with separate winners.

The Ocean Race Europe has already attracted some of the best boats and skippers in the IMOCA ranks and is sure to capture the imagination of the sailing public in another season affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Antoine Mermod, the president of the IMOCA Class, says this is a new departure for skippers, crews and shore crews, that will offer a foretaste of the global fully-crewed edition of The Ocean Race that will also feature IMOCAs and starts from Alicante, Spain, in October 2022.

"We are delighted to see some of the best boats and teams in the Class taking the start in The Ocean Race Europe," said Mermod. "I have no doubt in my mind that this is going to be a spectacular event that will fascinate sailing fans who thought they had seen the very best of the IMOCA Class in the Vendée Globe. We are looking forward to a strong turnout for a unique race that offers great visibility to commercial partners."

Nicolas Troussel whose CORUM L'Épargne was dismasted in the early stages of the Vendée Globe, is among those looking forward to getting started on the first full-crewed race for many years in the IMOCA Class.

"Our IMOCAs are fantastic boats and sailing them, whether it is single-handed, double-handed or fully-crewed, is always an opportunity to show how they perform and to learn more about how to use them," said 46-year-old Troussel. "The Ocean Race Europe is a real opportunity to live and share an experience on a race course presenting challenging conditions in both the Atlantic and the Mediterranean."

The French sailor based at Lorient, says he and his team will have to learn new ways to sail their boat, especially when taking on crews like 11th Hour Racing Team, skippered by Charlie Enright.

"We will have to find the optimum way of sailing the boat in crewed mode," explained Troussel. "The competition should be tight and we will compete on the water against projects like 11th Hour Racing Team that are more focused on crewed events."

The English navigator Simon Fisher is among the sailors on 11th Hour Racing Team - the old HUGO BOSS from the 2016-17 Vendée Globe. He says the international crew cannot wait to get started in The Ocean Race Europe.

"We've been learning how to sail fast in these boats and to keep up the pace 24/7 when sailing with a crew, so we are really looking forward to the start of The Ocean Race Europe," he said.

A veteran of five Ocean Races, the Englishman says one of the biggest challenges is going to be trying to get some sleep when you are off-watch in the cramped, noisy and unstable interior of an IMOCA.

"Working out how you're going to rest is a pretty interesting challenge," he said. "With two people on deck pushing the boat, getting comfortable enough for some shut-eye is actually pretty hard. But once you are in a racing situation the motivation is stronger, so I think the race is going to be tremendous."

Fisher says The Ocean Race Europe course offers a bit of everything and an all-round challenge. "It is going to be strategic and tricky and tactical," he said. "It is also going to be busy because we are almost always going to be sailing quite close to land which will keep the intensity up. Obviously it is harder to settle into a routine when you are always going around marks and corners and headlands, so it has the makings of quite an intense race."

Thomas Ruyant who finished sixth in his second Vendée Globe aboard LinkedOut, is another sailor preparing for the challenge of fully-crewed IMOCA action. Ruyant says The Ocean Race Europe is going to be like sailing three giant Figaro legs and with an intensity never before seen in the IMOCA Class.

"You are going to be able to do manoeuvres and change sails much more quickly with that many people on board, so you won't be taking time over decisions like we do on our own, also because the overlaps between the different sails will be much closer for this race," he said.

"We are obviously going there to win," he added, "but the main thing that drew us to the race is the possibility of being able to sail against good teams with a proper crew on board." Ruyant added that he sees no reason why The Ocean Race Europe cannot become a regular fixture in the four-yearly cycle of the IMOCA calendar.

One of the female sailors taking part in the race is the former Team SCA and Dongfeng Race Team sailor in the Volvo Ocean Race, Justine Mettraux, who will be sailing alongside Fisher on 11th Hour Racing Team. The 34-year-old Swiss former Mini and Class 40 sailor says she is looking forward to some tough competition on the European course.

Asked what the secret of success in this race will be, she said: "It is hard to say - there are always a lot of components in a race like this. We know we have a boat that is a bit older then some of the others taking part, but I think if you sail really well there is always a strategic part to the race as well so, for sure, anything can happen."

Like Ruyant, Mettraux sees no reason why this race cannot become a regular fixture for the Class. "I hope that happens, it will be nice," she said. "I think The Ocean Race Europe is a good opportunity to have more people on board, more people involved and also to have more women involved, so all of this is positive for the IMOCA Class."

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