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The Ocean Race's toughest test, US Sailing's revolving door spins again

by David Schmidt 28 Feb 10:00 PST February 28, 2023
The Ocean Race 2022-23 start of Leg 3 in Cape Town © Sailing Energy / The Ocean Race

12,750 nautical miles is a lot of brine. Yet this is the length of Leg Three of the 2023 edition of The Ocean Race, which began on Sunday, February 26, on the waters off of Cape Town, South Africa. The leg will take crews around the world's three great capes and across the Indian and Pacific Oceans, all the way to Itajaí, Brazil. To help put this in perspective, the driving distance between New York and San Francisco is 2,905 statutory miles, which converts to 2,524 nautical miles. So, Leg Three's 12,750 nautical miles translates to just over five one-way trips between the East Coast and the West Coast.

Even with my cruise control pegged at 80 miles per hour, some cash earmarked to pay-off speeding tickets, 100 gigabytes of live Grateful Dead music (and 25 GBs of live Jerry Garcia Band music for variety's sake), and a dozen packages of Voke tabs (Google if you're not familiar), this would be a lot of driving.

Now imagine spending this same time wedged into a carbon fiber cockpit with four of your newest and bestest [sic] friends, sans any chance of finding a decent shot of espresso for 12,750 nautical miles of rough, semi-foiling Southern Ocean sailing, and this leg will likely "encourage" every participant to redefine their ability to persevere.

Yet Leg Three literally defines this edition of The Ocean Race. While there was plenty of great sailing in Leg One and Leg Two of this race, these legs can be seen as "approaches" to the real deal: The Southern Ocean. But unlike other edition of this historic race, which typically pushed from South Africa to New Zealand, Leg Three practically girdles the globe via the high latitudes.

Crews left the dock and their loved ones anticipating racing hard for anywhere between 30 and 40 days.

For some teams, this clock began on Sunday. But, for the crews of Biotherm, which is led by skipper Paul Meilhat, and 11th Hour Racing, which is led by American Charlie Enright, the leg got longer thanks to gear breakages.

In the case of Biotherm, which has seen its crew power seriously bolstered by the arrival of offshore-bad-ass Sam Davies, this came courtesy of a busted mainsheet strop and damaged traveler track.

11th Hour Racing, meanwhile, suffered two broken battens. While Biotherm was forced to suspend racing and head back ashore to make repairs, 11th Hour Racing opted to make their repairs at sea and take their minimum two-hour penalty.

"We have broken two wing tips on the mainsail," said Mark Towill, CEO of 11th Hour Racing, in an official race communication. "We actually have two spares on board, so we could make the repair, but that would leave us with no spares for the Southern Ocean. So, we'll get the spares on board to be prepared for the long leg... This is the prudent thing to do."

These equipment fails effectively mean that the already-anemic fleet of five boats has been whittled down to three frontrunners, at least as of this writing (Sunday morning, U.S. West Coast time).

But, those of us with longer memories (and greyer beards) will remember that, in the 2008-2009 edition of The Volvo Ocean Race, skipper Magnus Olsson and his Ericsson 3 crew triumphantly won the 12,300 nautical mile Leg 5, which stretched from Qingdao, China, to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, despite problems that forced the team to start racing some eight hours astern of the wolfpack.

Couple the already-thin possibility of a juggernaut with the fact that Volvo Open 70s like Ericsson 3 are significantly more robust vessels than the fragile (read: exposed foils) IMOCA 60s that are being used to contest the 2023 edition of The Ocean Race, and it quickly becomes apparent that there's a lot of sailing between the Cape of Good Hope and Itajaí, Brazil.

Sail-World wishes all teams safe passage through the high latitudes, and we look forward to celebrating the highs and commiserating (albeit from a far more comfortable and espresso-fortified environment) with all teams as they circle the bottom of the globe.

Meanwhile, some not-so-good news for anyone who hopes that the American-flagged Olympic sailing team will ever win a precious medal again (our last gold was won by Anna Tunnicliffe Tobias in the Laser Radial class at the Bejing 2008 Olympics). On Friday (February 25), word broke that the revolving leadership door at US Sailing has swung again, this time leading Paul Cayard—who twice skippered yachts around the world in the Whitbread Round the World Race/Volvo Ocean Race and who won the 1988 Star World Championships—to tender his resignation letter from his position as Executive Director of U.S. Olympic Sailing.

"In March of 2021, I accepted the position as head of the U.S. Olympic Sailing Team, with the goal of getting Team USA back on the podium," Cayard told The Associated Press. "While this was my greatest challenge, I am very proud of my team and what we achieved to date.

"Unfortunately, the current board of US Sailing recently restructured the Olympic Department, including my role as executive director. The new structure is not what I signed up for, nor something I am willing to be part of. I am not a quitter, but I do know when it is time to go. I am grateful to those who supported this mission with me. I wish our USA athletes great success and I always will be there for them," continued Cayard in his statement to the Associated Press.

For their part, US Sailing has decided to split the Executive Director position into two jobs, namely a Head of Olympic Operations, as well as a separate fundraising position.

Given that the US Sailing has now churned through three talented, capable, and internationally respected leaders—Josh Adams, double Olympic gold medalist Malcolm Page (AUS) and now Paul Cayard—in just over a decade, perhaps it's finally time for this organization to peer deeper into itself, and the United States's entire approach to Olympic (and college) sailing, rather replacing the team's top-line Olympic leadership, if we ever again want to hear the Star-Spangled Banner played at an Olympic sailing medal ceremony.

May the four winds blow you safely home.

David Schmidt North American Editor

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