Please select your home edition
Armstrong 728x90 - A-Wing XPS - TOP

IMOCA teams learn to play the crew merry-go-round in The Ocean Race

by Ed Gorman / IMOCA Globe Series 22 Apr 2023 12:35 PDT

Crew changes at stopovers and running a squad system throughout the race are new disciplines that IMOCA teams are learning, as they pioneer the Class's first engagement in The Ocean Race.

Just like ensuring they get the right input from their shore team at stopovers, making astute changes to crew rosters is a critical skill when executing a successful The Ocean Race campaign.

This is the mechanism that ensures that tired or jaded sailors can be replaced with ones "off the bench," who can bring fresh energy and enthusiasm to the task of racing an IMOCA fully-crewed 24 hours-a-day.

But getting the changes right is not easy. Will the newcomers fit in? Will the new crew have the right balance of technical and sailing skills? And will the new sailors be able to deliver a level of performance to match - or even improve upon - what the outgoing crew had managed?

As the start of Leg 4 from Itajai in Brazil to Newport, Rhode Island draws near, there are twelve "new" sailors preparing to join the race, with the teams - Paul Meilhat's Biotherm and Kevin Escoffier's race-leading Holcim-PRB - bringing on three newcomers each.

On Biotherm the British Figaro sailor Alan Roberts is stepping up, alongside Frenchwoman and Dongfeng Race Team veteran Marie Riou, and the Portuguese Olympic and match-racing sailor Mariana Lobato. For Roberts, 33, this is a great opportunity to race in the class he has been aiming at for some years but has yet to break into as a solo skipper.

He says taking over from Anthony Marchand, Samantha Davies and Damien Seguin will not be easy for the new recruits or their skipper, as they join Meilhat on board the IMOCA currently sitting in fourth place overall. "I think it's going to be difficult for Paul at the beginning because we have to learn the boat and he has to trust us, although he must already trust us because he chose us," said Roberts. "But we are used to stage races with the Solitaire du Figaro and I see each stage as a race in itself."

Roberts said he had spent time, as he prepared for his The Ocean Race debut on Biotherm, examining video and photographs taken during the first three legs, to help him get up to speed with what Meilhat and his team were doing. "I had a good look at the footage to see the sail choices and settings and life on board," he said. "I don't think what we are doing is that far from the Solitaire. We're only going to be two on watch at the same time. But I am going to give it my all, as I do every time I'm on the water."

Meilhat says his new crew brings a greater emphasis on racing skills and brings "more freshness" to his campaign. The Biotherm skipper is hoping to improve his game now that the race has returned to the Atlantic, an arena that he believes should suit his boat better than the Southern Ocean.

"Marie and Mariana have similar Olympic backgrounds, but Mariana is now more experienced with crewed racing and big boats, and Marie has more foiling experience," he explained. "Alan has done a lot of IMOCA sailing recently with two transatlantic races in the last four months. We're entering a new part of The Ocean Race, we have more confidence in the boat, we know it has more potential in the conditions we're going to encounter at the end, so we're raising our game and we're going to race more!"

Over on Holcim-PRB, a similar big switch is under way with three newcomers joining Escoffier and replacing Sam Goodchild, Tom Laperche and Abby Ehler. In their place will be Frenchman Fabien Delahaye, one of the IMOCA fleet's top performance experts who has been part of the team since the beginning; Benjamin Schwartz, also from France, who has a wealth of experience in a variety of boats and is a navigator to boot; and Annemieke Bes from the Netherlands, a three-time Olympian with a long track record in big boat sailing and a veteran of the last The Ocean Race.

Team manager Marine Derrien told the Class that the Holcim-PRB campaign will use 11 sailors altogether by the time they reach the finish at Genoa in late June. She said Escoffier had selected his squad before the race start in January, but firm decisions on who sails on which legs have been made only recently in the light of how the team has performed.

Derrien says she and Escoffier are well aware of the risks of bringing an almost completely new crew on board a boat that has dropped only one point so far after an outstanding first three legs. "It is true the new team might not work as well and, to be honest, we would have been more comfortable keeping the existing crew, because it is so difficult to find a group that works so well. But we know that it is important to bring fresh energy to the project," she said.

"It would be easy to keep everything as it was, but would the crew have the same energy compared to other teams that bring in new people?" she added. "That's the balance. We know that The Ocean Race is such a long race - we've done only 40% of the points so far, so we are not even halfway through it, so it is important to bring fresh people in."

While crew changes are taking place on four of the five boats in Brazil, it is interesting that both Escoffier and Meilhat are among the skippers who plan to do the entire race, despite the punishing conditions on board and the deep exhaustion they have already experienced after the marathon leg through the Southern Ocean.

Derrien says she is confident Escoffier can complete the circuit without a break. "I think he is ready to do it and I think he can do it, but that is why it is important to bring the right people in around Kevin at key points," she said.

Meilhat seems to be on a roller-coaster and he doesn't want to get off. "I think you should never get out of the race and that's one of the reasons why I never go home," he said. "Since last May, with the construction of the boat, I have spent very little time at home. I've been in this spirit for a year now and I know that I can't let it stop, otherwise I'll never be able to set off again. So my family comes out to visit, I take time off, but I never get out of the race."

He said he has felt physical exhaustion at times, but it's the psychological strain that is harder to deal with on this 32,000-nautical mile marathon challenge. "There is physical fatigue, but you don't feel it too much - it's more the mental fatigue that is difficult to manage, but fortunately we have a great team spirit and that helps enormously," he said.

Related Articles

Boris Herrmann receives German Ocean Award 2024
Recognition of engagement as an ocean ambassador and for communicating marine research topics German professional sailor Boris Herrmann receives the "Deutscher Meerespreis" (German Ocean Award) of the Prof. Dr Werner Petersen Foundation in recognition of his engagement as an ambassador for the ocean and for communicating marine research topics. Posted on 19 Jun
Crémer fulfills requirements for Vendée Globe
After 14 days of intense and sometimes frustrating sailing across the Atlantic Last Thursday evening, after 14 days of intense and sometimes frustrating sailing across the Atlantic, Clarisse Crémer crossed the finish line of the New York Vendée, the final transatlantic race required for her to be in the 'safe zone'. Posted on 19 Jun
New York Vendée - Les Sables d'Olonne review
Solo skippers found themselves engaged in a Transatlantic race full of twists and turns The last major ocean race ahead before the Vendée Globe, the most famous solo round the world race, the New York Vendée - Les Sables d'Olonne delivered on all its promises. Posted on 14 Jun
Scott Shawyer finishes the NY Vendée Race
The first Canadian to completed the solo transatlantic race from the USA to France Scott Shawyer, the skipper of the IMOCA Be Water Positive, has completed his first solo transatlantic race from the US to France. Posted on 13 Jun
Clarisse Crémer completes New York Vendée
Securing her place in the Vendée Globe 2024 On Thursday, June 13, 2024 at 15:00 pm, Clarisse Crémer, skipper of the IMOCA L'Occitane en Provence, crossed the finish line of the New York Vendée, a solo transatlantic race. Posted on 13 Jun
Holcim-PRB, 11th in NY-Vendée Les Sables Transat
Nicolas Lunven arrived in Les Sables d'Olonne after 13 days, 18 hours, and 20 minutes of racing Departing from New York on May 29th, Nicolas Lunven arrived in Les Sables d'Olonne today after 13 days, 18 hours, and 20 minutes of racing. Posted on 12 Jun
PlanetSail Episode 32: Smashing the Atlantic
The world the focus is drawing in on the IMOCA fleet With six months to go before the infamous single handed Vendée Globe Race around the world the focus is drawing in on the IMOCA fleet, both for spectators and the solo sailors themselves. Posted on 11 Jun
The IMOCA podium is much harder to reach now
Charlie Dalin has particularly enjoyed his convincing win in the New York Vendée-Les Sables d'Olonne Charlie Dalin has particularly enjoyed his convincing win in the New York Vendée-Les Sables d'Olonne race. Posted on 11 Jun
Jérémie Beyou (Charal) completes the podium
Taking third place in the New York Vendée Les Sables d'Olonne French skipper Jérémie Beyou held out under pressure to take third place on the second edition of the New York Vendée Les Sables d'Olonne solo race across the North Atlantic this evening. Posted on 10 Jun
Boris Herrmann achieves back-to-back seconds
The Team Malizia skipper crossed the finish line of the New York-Vendée on Sunday afternoon This Sunday afternoon, the Team Malizia skipper crossed the finish line of the New York Vendée in second place, achieving consecutive second place finishes in this year's transatlantic solo challenges Posted on 9 Jun
Cyclops Marine 2023 November - FOOTERHenri-Lloyd - For the ObsessedSelden 2020 - FOOTER