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Racing to Grand Finale of The Ocean Race in Genova continues despite drama and shock of collision

by The Ocean Race 16 Jun 2023 06:58 PDT 16 June 2023
Team Holcim - PRB on start day on Leg 7 of The Ocean Race © Julien Champollion / polaRYSE / Holcim - PRB

All five VO65s left The Hague in full racing trim on Thursday afternoon, heading into Stage 3 of the VO65 Sprint... and there is an update on their positions further down.

Unfortunately, the same couldn't be said for the IMOCA fleet, where a dramatic collision has left three boats still on the course and racing towards Genova. One boat has retired from the leg after assuming responsibility for the accident, and the race leading 11th Hour Racing Team is dockside in The Hague and has been working through the night to determine the extent of the damage, begin repairs and assess their options for a return.

Watch the dramatic collision...

The incident itself was the type of accident that regrettably happens on rare occasions in racing. But it is a shock to see it here, in conditions of daylight and good visibility and on an uncrowded race course.

After 11th Hour Racing Team tacked on the lay line for the next turning mark and established itself as the stand on 'right of way' boat, the crew on GUYOT environnement - Team Europe, required to give-way in this situation, apparently didn't see the other boat until it was too late. The resulting collision caused enough damage to send both boats back to port.

"I was helming and I just saw their boat appear suddenly and it was too late," lamented Ben Dutreux, the skipper of the GUYOT boat. "The contact was unavoidable (at that point). I take full responsibility. It is our fault."

In acknowledging fault, GUYOT environnement - Team Europe has retired from Leg 7 of the race, a disappointing turn of events for a team that had proved resilient in coming back from an earlier dismasting.

For 11th Hour Racing Team, the damage from the collision is a big factor the team now has to deal with. Currently at the head of the leaderboard and riding a wave of three consecutive leg victories, skipper Charlie Enright had been looking forward to a hard-fought race into Genova that, given the right result, would see his team winning The Ocean Race by beating their nearest competitor, Team Holcim-PRB, on the water.

Now, through no fault of their own, the story takes a different turn.

"The most important thing is that everyone on their boat and on our boat is ok," Enright said on the dock, not long after the collision. "Where we go from here is uncertain at this stage. It's life, it's racing. There is nothing we would have done differently and accidents happen.

"This race has a way of testing people in different ways - physically and mentally, and this is a test for our team. But there is no team I would rather be on, that I would rather have with me. If anyone can figure this out, it is us, I genuinely believe that, we will just have to see what that process looks like as we get more information."

His team is operating on two tracks at the moment, assessing repair options that could see them get back on the water heading for Genova in the coming days, while at the same time, working within the Racing Rules of Sailing and the rules of The Ocean Race to consider how redress may apply (the International Jury may award points to a team unable to race competitively following an incident caused by another competitor).

"Personally, I refuse to admit this race is over," said navigator Simon Fisher, a veteran of the Race, when he returned to the dock yesterday. "We would rather try to win it on the water, but we need to find out what our options are, if this can be repaired, and what our redress implications are as a team now, and hopefully move forward.

"I have seen plenty of stuff in my time over six editions of The Ocean Race, and this is not one of the better ones, but we have a fantastic team, and going into today, we were in a fantastic position, and that is thanks to the team we have. If I wanted to be with any group of people in adversity, it's them."

While this incident overshadowed the leg 7 start, there are still three boats racing towards Genova in the IMOCA class, including Team Holcim-PRB who showed an impressive burst of speed off the starting line to build a lead over 11th Hour Racing Team and GUYOT envrionnement before the fateful collision.

Skipper Benjamin Schwartz pushed his boat and crew hard and they would go on to lead Team Malizia and Biotherm out of The Hague starting area towards the North Sea. As the three boats worked through the exclusion zones and into the English Channel, racing remained extremely close. As of Friday morning UTC the trio are within five nautical miles on the race tracker leaderboard, with Team Holcim-PRB holding a modest advantage.

Earlier on Thursday, it was the VO65 fleet with the first start of the day, their racing getting under way just after 13:00 local time, under mostly sunny skies and in a 9-12 knot northerly breeze.

After pleasing the home fans with a win in the In Port Race, the local heroes on the Dutch-flagged Team JAJO once again led the way on Thursday, making an early pass on the first downwind leg and extending away to lead the fleet through the departure gate and away from The Hague.

"This has been super nice," said Team JAJO skipper Jelmer van Beek from on board as the boat passed through the final starting gate. "It's great to have so many people out on the water supporting us. It keeps amazing me. And we're in first place so a good start for us on the race to Genova."

Just behind JAJO was WindWhisper Racing Team, the overall leader in the VO65 fleet and the team JAJO has to beat to Genova to have a chance at the title. Austrian Ocean Racing/Genova, Mirpuri-Trifork Racing and Viva Mexico were all lined up behind the leaders, as they sailed downwind from The Hague.

A look at the tracker on Friday morning UTC shows the fleet gybing downwind - zigzagging into the English Channel - with Austrian Ocean Racing powered by Team Genova making a bold split to the south.

WindWhisper Racing Team is leading Team JAJO and Mirpuri-Trifork Racing and Viva Mexico in the group to the north, but the spread from first to fifth is just 8 miles.

An update on the status of 11th Hour Racing Team is expected later on Friday.

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