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The Ocean Race Europe - All for one - One for all

by The Ocean Race 12 Jun 2021 22:54 PDT 13 June 2021
Second Leg of The Ocean Race Europe, from Cascais, Portugal, to Alicante, Spain. © Sailing Energy / The Ocean Race

As the IMOCA60 fleet swings to the breeze that sweeps across the harbour in Alicante it is impossible to miss just how different all five boats are. The very nature of these radical looking 60 footers makes them the epitome of a development class.

Yet the irony is that after two offshore legs the top spot on the overall points is shared by three boats. And three boats that could hardly be more different, including one from a previous design generation when daggerboards were straight and simply went up and down.

The result of such close competition in The Ocean Race Europe has been the catalyst for plenty of debate that has not only focussed on the individual strengths and weaknesses of certain configurations, but in the way these 60-foot boats are being sailed.

While Robert Stanjek's Offshore Team Germany is an older design generation, his team is currently one of the three that are sharing the lead. Among the crew is fellow Olympian Annie Lush who has also competed in two previous Volvo Ocean Races aboard the VO65s placing her in a perfect position to comment on the practical differences between her version of fully crewed sailing with the new definition aboard an IMOCA60.

"Clearly the most obvious difference with the IMOCA is that it's set up for short-handed sailing which means that for over 90 percent of the time or more we're not driving, the autopilot is. So, for me that was a bit of a shock, realising that we won't really be steering in the race, or so I thought. And even when you do it's quite hard with a tiller, especially when it's windy, it takes quite a lot of force while it's also tricky to find somewhere to sit where you can drive and still be able to see.

"And then inside the boat, it's really designed for one small person, so it's pretty cramped. But when it comes to handling, one thing you notice straight away is that they're a lot lighter so you feel the acceleration, but you also become aware about the limits to how hard you should push.

"I'm pretty used to the VO65, which basically you can just push and push and push and they don't break. But the IMOCAs can. So, knowing how hard to push and how far to take the boat is pretty new to me."

But it's not just about the boat. Coming from different backgrounds and knowing how to work together as a team aboard a boat that was designed for solo sailing is a new experience too.

"Like myself, Robert Stanjek is from an Olympic background, Philip Kasuske is an accomplished dinghy sailor and Ben Dutreux, who is navigating, has just done the Vendée Globe, so we have a wide range of abilities.

"When we first came together, it was quite funny pooling our skills for our first training session. My job is mostly organising the manoeuvres and running the pit. So we did some headsail peels and we came back to shore and Ben said, 'Oh, that was cool. I've never peeled an IMOCA before.'

"I was like what? You've just been around the world and not peeled a sail? But obviously it's completely different how you sail alone. I think I also had to learn to take a step back a bit because some things I want to do to make the boat go faster, like the way that the boat is set up, you can't do with a shorthanded crew. For example, I would love to change the stack every 10 minutes, but you can't really do that. Dealing with the energy management is a big deal with just four of you and knowing what to prioritise. So, I think we're really learning off each other."

"Sleep management is pretty important too. We have a watch system where we're having an hour and a half off, if you get that. But in reality that's probably a maximum of an hour and a bunk if you very lucky. So shorter sleeps, but I think we've actually managed that quite well to be able to keep the energy on deck, to keep pushing and keep driving the boat."

When it comes to the differences between solo sailors and those used to a full crew, the learning has gone both ways.

"For the Vendee sailors it's been getting used to having other people on board. I've spoken to some of them and they've said that they don't really know how to 'be' on board with the team. They don't know what to do or how to communicate. For me, I'm very clear on how I think the boat should run, I'm used to that role, but maybe not just with four. So, it's a completely different viewpoint.

"It's a huge learning curve for all of us and why it is so exciting to be doing this race, because it feels like it's a complete unknown and if you find the right balance it's a massive opportunity.

"And I think perhaps in some ways we're seeing that with our own team. Yes, we have an older boat and everyone focuses on that and that we don't have foils, but there's so much to be gained from how you actually sail the boat and how you use the team. And I think, that can be our biggest gain, trying to work out how to do that, how to optimise our performance. And right now, no one knows the answer."

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