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Biotherm in the The Ocean Race - One test leg, one happy crew

by Voile Biotherm 22 Jan 16:00 PST
Biotherm during the first leg in The Ocean Race 2023 © Minghao Zhang

Shortly before midnight UTC, on Saturday 21 January, Biotherm crossed the finish line in Mindelo, after 6 days, 8 hours and 47 minutes of racing. Paul Meilhat, Anthony Marchand, Damien Seguin, Amélie Grassi and on-board reporter Minghao Zhang finish 4th in Cape Verde at the end of act one. This initial test proved to be both tough and formative.

"It's been a fantastic leg. The goal was to avoid breaking anything, to feel good aboard, not to do anything silly and to put in some great manoeuvres. The team is great, we have potential and we have a lot to give," explains Anthony Marchand. The Biotherm clan now has barely three days to recover, work on the boat and prepare for the second 4,600-mile leg to Cape Town... The Ocean Race marathon has only just begun.

A magnificent start from Alicante, wind holes from which to extract oneself along the Spanish coast, then 50 knots of breeze on the nose, a very difficult sea state and around thirty tack changes to escape the Mediterranean, followed by four days of downwind conditions peppered with gybes to get to Mindelo, on the island of Sao Vicente, and a torrid atmosphere on the dock: there you have the ingredients of this first lively and contrasting opus.

Paul Meilhat knew that this introductory passage would be a way for the crew to acclimatise and that's exactly how things played out aboard Biotherm: "We got stuck in a wind hole on the first night, which cost us dearly in the ranking, before having to cope with some Dantean conditions. However, we didn't panic when we ended up behind our rivals, or in very tough conditions or during the moments that were full on. The gameplan was to demonstrate good seamanship, make the most of our time to get some work done, gain in confidence, get a grasp of the boat and the trimming, and exercise our skills in a fantastic atmosphere."   "We had to take care of one another, because life aboard wasn't easy. The plan was to do our best, but to remain very cautious in our actions and get a feel for the boat, without suffering any serious damage," insists Amélie Grassi who, like Anthony Marchand, was making her IMOCA debut.

It's job done because, aside from a few minor technical issues, including the system for lowering the foil, which gave up the ghost 24 hours from the finish, Biotherm coped well. There are sure to be some checks and DIY to do during this short break in Cape Verde, but nothing serious. "Given the conditions we had, it's evident that the shore team prepared the boat well," enthuses the skipper.

This test run in the Mediterranean and the North Atlantic was an opportunity to make an initial assessment of this crew, which is still being put together. "We feel as if we're a bit off the pace of the other teams, explains Paul. However, it's important not to focus on making up our deficit immediately and at any cost. You need to bear in mind that it's a very long race. We're going to try to raise our game in certain areas and build on that as we go along. We have real potential and it's all very promising."

On Wednesday 25 January, at 16:05 UTC, the small armada of IMOCAs will head back out to sea, bound for South Africa. Cape Town will be the next stop after a 4,600-mile sea passage very familiar to offshore racers. On the menu on this journey down into the southern hemisphere: a passage through the doldrums and across the equator, a rounding of the Saint Helena High between the coasts of South America and Africa, before making landfall at the gateway to the Cape of Good Hope. With a bit of luck, there will be plenty of downwind conditions! 

This latest course will bring back a few memories for the boat's two Vendée Globe sailors. Indeed, like his team-mates, Damien Seguin is psyched up to perform well in act two: "The first leg was to see what the race was about. For the next, we'll be on the attack!" 

The crew of Biotherm remains unchanged aside from the arrival of Anne Beaugé to replace Ming Hao as on-board reporter.

Quotes from the boat

Paul Meilhat, about the short stopover in Cape Verde:
"We have the advantage that we're not overly tired. It was tough at the start, but we managed to really recover our energy at the end of the leg. That said, we need to get some rest, effect some solid repairs to the boat and check everything, whilst remaining focused on preparing for the next leg, because it'll be a work-up! It seems crazy to do all that in three days. We can't expect perfection. We need to strike a balance."

Damien Seguin, about the atmosphere aboard:
"Things went very smoothly between us, which is fantastic news. We discussed and shared a great deal. It was our first major sea passage together. We're all really happy to be sailing together and we have what it takes to progress. On top of that, our arrival in the middle of the night with such a crazy reception was like a giant nightclub on the dock!"

Minghao Zhang (CHN), on-board reporter about his experience aboard:
"It was my first time on an IMOCA and it has been fantastic. The boat's crazy. After gybing, you haul on the sails and the boat just picks up the pace again like a rocketship. Everything aboard is a challenge. In bad weather, when you're making towards Gibraltar, feeling seasick, you have to continue getting the boat making headway... It's a real challenge! I've never experienced anything like it! I was like a child. I feel so lucky to have got to experience that with the crew. There was a language barrier of course, but you have to find ways of working together and ultimately it all panned out..."

Amélie Grassi about how the leg went and the motivation:
"It was a boisterous introduction. Our start in Alicante was memorable! After that, we got a bit down on the first night in the light patch as the others overtook us. Then in the Alboran Sea, we got caught in up to 60 knots of upwind conditions, which is never much fun... Paul purposely kept out of the manœuvres in general, to force us to take control and here we are now, with a fantastic boat, with everyone knowing how to use her, which is very promising going forward. I'm happy with this leg. We may have lacked precision on a lot of things, the navigation, the sail trimming and so on. We'll have to bounce back and be more rigorous. On crossing the finish line though, we sensed the shift in mentality for the 2nd leg. We were in discovery and safe mode. Now, you can sense that we're all keen to attack. I'm very motivated. Competitively we're going to have a ball chasing down a good performance."

Anthony Marchand about the boat and the mindset:
"These boats are technical. You have to be on the sheets as you can quickly lose your apparent wind and lose speed. You have to be on top of everything and you need to often power up again. They're complicated boats, but they're a lot of fun. It's a kind of sadomasochistic pleasure... with the joy of speed as the reward. In any case, Biotherm has superb potential and she's a very well built boat (...) We've learnt a great deal. Now, for this 2nd leg, we should have the conditions we're a little more familiar with. We're expecting to have a battle on our hands. The whole crew is already very motivated for the next stage and Paul has inordinate amounts of energy and infectious determination."

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