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Selden 2020 - LEADERBOARD

Maximum concentration on board Holcim-PRB for a very special Leg 6

by Team HOLCIM - PRB 8 Jun 15:22 PDT
Team Holcim-PRB - The Ocean Race © Julien Champolion | PolaRYSE | Team Holcim-PRB

The five IMOCAs have set sail on the shortest leg of the round-the-world race, which could also prove to be the most epic! These 800 miles, sailed as close to the coast as possible, are likely to be decisive for the final victory.

Just one point behind the leaders of 11th Hour Racing Team, the Holcim-PRB crew are approaching this Leg 6 with determination and a great deal of concentration. Benjamin Schwartz, who is taking on the role of skipper of an IMOCA boat for the first time, knows that this state of mind must not leave them during the three days of racing ahead. Holcim-PRB is about to embark on a high-tension leg, in which tactics will take precedence over strategy.

The fleet will first head south to round a buoy at the head of Kiel Bay in Germany, before heading north again to round Denmark and begin a descent towards the Netherlands. The race will take place in restricted sailing areas, sometimes even in corridors, and the constant proximity of the coast will add a great deal of uncertainty to the IMOCA boats' progress.

Alongside Yoann Richomme and Martin Le Pape, Benjamin Schwartz will be looking after the navigation. And that's no mean feat. Together, they have entered over 150 virtual points that determine the exclusion zones for navigation. Maritime traffic, wind farms, sandbanks... all constitute prohibited or dangerous areas for 60-footers. And on this route between Aarhus and The Hague, there are an incredible number of them! This will be one of the major points of vigilance, because if a forbidden zone is crossed, you run the risk of taking a penalty.

"I've got the impression that half the navigation will be done before the start, because you have to make sure you don't make any mistakes in reading the course and entering waypoints, locating sandbanks, islands and forbidden zones. We need to be precise in this exercise, so we're doing it together with Ben and Martin," comments Yoann.

Not only will we have to find our way around these traps without making the slightest mistake, but we'll also have to make the most of the numerous wind variations expected on the course. Linking up maneuvers and choosing the right sails will also be key, first in light airs, then in crosswind conditions and flat seas, which could make it easier for the boat to fly.

"Weather options are secondary on this leg. It's mainly going to be a question of speed: making the right sail choices, the right maneuvers at the right time," sums up Benjamin Schwartz.

To achieve this, the three crew members, all from the Figaro circuit, will rely on the experience of Abby Ehler, who is taking part in the race for the 4th time aboard Holcim-PRB. The British sailor, who has a wealth of round-the-world experience, has the serenity of a wise woman, and has her sights set on continuing the performance work carried out since the start in Alicante.

On board, for this Leg 6, she brings a little more confidence to Benjamin, Martin and Yoann. Yoann describes her as 'the boss' in a big burst of laughter, testifying to the team spirit that reigns between the four sailors, even though they still know very little about each other.

"Having three Figaro sailors who know how to push very hard in terms of tiredness, and who are always fully committed to navigation and performance, is going to be a plus. On top of that, we have Abby, who's going to play a key role on board. She knows the boat and the maneuvers extremely well. She's had a lot of experience with some of Holcim-PRB's settings, and I think we'd be in a much worse position without her. Having her on board is also a reassurance for us," adds the skipper.

Together, they take up the challenge of a tricky leg, a must for regaining first place in the overall ranking. The finish is scheduled for Sunday in The Hague. Georgia Schofield will be the on-board reporter on this leg, and should share some fabulous footage.

Words from the Crew

Benjamin Schwartz: "The special thing about this leg is that it's short, with only two and a half days of sailing on a coastal route all the way. We'll be going down to Kiel, stuck between Denmark on one side and Germany on the other. Then, on the way back up, we'll find a little bit of open sea, but there are a lot of forbidden zones where we're not allowed to put a toe in and where we're going to have to be vigilant. It's an area where there's little water, with sandbanks. We're also going to have to be extremely vigilant in terms of navigation, to make sure we don't make any mistakes. In terms of wind conditions, we'll be between thermal breezes at the start. Then, an easterly flow will set in. On this leg, we're going to have extremely flat seas, as in eastern Denmark we have coastline almost everywhere in our east, which is where the wind will come from. On the west coast, down towards the Netherlands, there will also be very little sea. As these anticyclonic conditions have lasted for quite a long time now over Europe, we should encounter very flat conditions which will be very conducive to a fairly easy and stable flight on the boat. Weather options are at the margin on this leg, it's mainly a race of speed: making the right sail choices, the right maneuvers at the right time."

Abby Ehler: "I'd never met Yoann and Martin before they arrived in Aarhus. And I had met Benjamin briefly in Lorient. It's a completely new crew, but it also means new energy on board, new ideas. It's an important step. We're going to have to keep things simple, get back to basics. My area of expertise is more in mechanical things and maneuvers. I'm not in charge of navigation, so we're going to complement each other. That's what I like to do. I'm going to do my utmost to make sure we don't make any mistakes on this part of the boat that I'm more proficient in, particularly maneuvers. What the team has achieved since the start is fantastic. We've still got two legs to go, and we're just one point behind the leaders. Anything is possible."

Yoann Richomme: "We're sailing in an area we're not used to sailing in, so it's one of the most complicated sailing preparations. The course is full of wind fields, traffic zones, lots of buoys and islands to pass between. So we had to prepare everything not to find ourselves surprised or lost. The route down and back up from Kiel is very restricted, it's really a corridor, not to mention the passage through the Kiel fjord which is very small, about 8 miles long, in which we're only allowed to stay in the channel. In this area, they've planned for almost 1,000 boats and 100,000 spectators, so it's going to be pretty crazy, but cool. Weather conditions are pretty good. We'll be making headway with the wind on the beam, more or less, to get in and out. The start will be very light, especially on the descent to Kiel. After Kiel, the wind picks up again - around 15 knots - to take us straight back up. Then, the last part is a little more open, but still very closed compared to what we're used to. Strategically, there's not much to play for. For the start up to Kiel, it's a bit of sailing in light winds, and there are bound to be some choices that can create gaps. After that, it's all about speed.

Martin Le Pape: "I think it's good to get out of your comfort zone. So this is a real opportunity for me to take this step. I'm hyper-concentrated because I want to do well. I think it's a great team and I really want to give all I have for everyone. I'm going to give it my all so that we can regain the lead and win this Ocean Race. So the overriding feeling is one of concentration. We've gathered a lot of information in a short space of time, but we're staying focused. It's going to be a short and very intense leg. We won't have the right to make any mistakes when it comes to navigation. We're going to have to sit back and talk things over. There are three of us on board, along with Yoann and Benjamin. I'd say we'll be operating in "one navigator and two guardians" mode. Abby is the orchestra conductor. We listen to her, and often we're looking for Abby when there are maneuvers to reassure ourselves and get her approval."

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