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Biotherm consider the different aspects of Leg 5 of The Ocean Race

by Voile Biotherm 21 May 2023 03:58 PDT
Biotherm crew - The Ocean Race © Ronan Gladu

On Sunday 21 May at 14:10 local time or 18:10 UTC, there will be just four competitors taking the start of the 5th leg of The Ocean Race bound for Aarhus in Denmark. This transatlantic passage will take the IMOCAs a long way north, over the top of the British Isles, along a totally unique route.

It will also be the last long leg of the crewed round the world race (3,500 miles) and will be worth a coefficient 2. A great opportunity then for the crews to reshuffle the cards in the overall ranking. Aboard Biotherm, Paul Meilhat and his team have the same aims: to snap up any opportunities that come their way, whilst keeping their monohull intact.

Like most offshore racing events, The Ocean Race is also about the survival of the fitness. The successive dismastings of Holcim-PRB and then Guyot Environnement (the latter will be transported by cargo ship to Europe so she won't take the start of leg 5) have influenced the overall ranking. Result: three boats are virtually tied on points in front, and Biotherm is 6 points behind. As such, the hierarchy is far from definitive as we begin the second chapter of The Ocean Race. There are still 3 legs to go and half the points are yet to be awarded.

Where is the Biotherm team at with just days away from the 5th start?

In competitive terms

Paul Meilhat: "It's a bit rough because we're just off the pace. We're making progress, but so are our rivals. It's kind of hard because it feels like we're playing with different weapons to the others. Our focus is more on project management. Beyond that, we knew what we were getting into and we have to accept it. We need to keep our heads down and focused on our goals. Being here, being a part of this crazy adventure, is already quite something and we're doing really well. Added to that, we're alive, we're not far behind the others and there are 10 points up for grabs in this leg!"

In technical terms

"Technically, the rhythm is really full-on. At every stopover, we have a matter of days to complete what we usually do over a winter refit. However, we know the boat like the back of our hand now and we're raising our game in every area, including logistics!"

In human terms

"It's the shore crew who face the toughest challenge. They're the ones who suffer most and have to come up against what we've experienced on the water. The comparison between the big teams who are more well-funded is stark sometimes - in Newport for example, we're a very small committee. However, the overall dynamic is fantastic."

The crew

"The complete overhaul of the team in Itajai, at the previous stopover, wasn't easy. Now, with Alan (Roberts) and Mariana (Lobato) remaining aboard, and the return of Amélie (Grassi) and Ronan (Gladu), it's more of a continuation of what's gone before.

That said, a crew change always brings positivity, freshness and new dynamics to the party, which has its benefits."

The state of the troops... and the skipper

"It has to be said that my fitness levels are slowly but surely deteriorating (laughs), especially given the fact that I celebrated my 41st birthday here (on 17 May). It's strange to note that in one way the fatigue is beginning to set in and, in the other, everything's beginning to fall into place. I'm also telling myself that we've completed three quarters of The Ocean Race. We've already covered more than 24,000 miles and we've been gone since January. We have 6,500 miles to go and a month of racing. It feels like we're on the home straight."

The course for leg 5: an 8 to 10-day transatlantic passage via the north

Following on from the deep south, here we are in the far north, almost! Over this 3,500-mile route to Aarhus (a large port city on Denmark's east coast), the small armada that makes up The Ocean Race will climb a long way north, above the Scottish Orkney Islands, at 59 degrees North, which is further north than Cape Horn is south! From there, they'll bend their course round into the North Sea, before dropping back down towards the Kattegat, a sea area bounded by coastline, bays and straits, which form the fringes of Sweden on the one side and Denmark on the other. The name Kattegat, 'cat flap' in Dutch, is very fitting for this final game of cat and mouse over the closing miles to the finish in Aarhus.

To Paul's mind, this leg can be split into 3 sections:

1/ From the start in Newport to the ice gate to the south-east of Newfoundland: an initial tricky section, with numerous prohibited zones, activity near the coast and fluky weather in the cold Labrador current.

2/ From the ice zone to the area approaching the British Isles: a downwind transatlantic passage dealing with potentially severe low pressure systems.

3/ From the north of the British Isles to the finish: more of a coastal section in complicated weather systems.

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