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Zhik Paris 2024

The Ocean Race Leg 7 - Heartbreak is a two-sided coin, a story of 24 hours

by 11th Hour Racing Team 16 Jun 2023 23:35 PDT
Heartbreak is a two-sided coin, a story of 24 hours © © Pierre Bouras / 11th Hour Racing © Sailing Energy / The Ocean Race

It was supposed to be the highlight of the race for 11th Hour Racing Team, but just 17 minutes into the final leg, disaster struck. A pendulum of emotions ensued as high hopes for a big win were shattered, and the team were left picking up the pieces of a broken boat, and broken hearts.

"How do I look in my new sunglasses?" asks an excited Francesca Clapcich in the team base ahead of the departure for Leg 7 of The Ocean Race. "Do I look fast?"

Not only was 11th Hour Racing Team leading The Ocean Race overall, with closest competitors Team Holcim - PRB needing a two boat difference to gain on points, but the final destination of The Ocean Race was in Genoa, Italy, Francesca's home country - making this leg extra special.

"This is a big event that takes a lot from people, takes them away from their homes and family and friends," she continues. "But when I look at the position we're in as a team going into this final leg, I think about everyone behind the scenes. I think of the wider team, the shore team, 11th Hour Racing, our friends and families who allow us to do this and you realize, it's just one big family.

"Do I want to win this leg into Italy, yes. But not just for myself. It's not just about the sailors. When we're racing, in the moments that are tricky, we use the strength of our wider family to keep pushing because we're not just pushing for ourselves. We're pushing for everybody else.."

Do the Dutch clap like this all the time?

The atmosphere during dock off in The Hague was insane. The excitement was palpable and the crowds were wild.

"Do the Dutch clap like this all the time?" one of the shore team members asks Anje Marijcke van Boxtel, the team's (Dutch) mental coach in awe. "Oh yes," she responds laughing. "We love a party."

Skipper Charlie Enright finishes his routine dockside interview with Eurosport and immediately starts searching the pontoon for his best friend and the team CEO Mark Towill. The two embrace briefly and Mark grabs Charlie by the shoulder and simply says quietly "You've got this."

The countdown begins and the crew are waved off the dock by an excited team. After all, the big win is finally within their sights. A win that has been a lifetime in the making for Charlie and Mark, a decade in the making for 11th Hour Racing and three years in the making for this team.

A win for either the leg or the race wasn't guaranteed of course, Team Holcim - PRB are fierce competitors and more than capable of putting the two boats needed in between them and 11th Hour Racing Team to steal the trophy, but it would have been exactly that - a steal. Because 11th Hour Racing Team was flying.

Cheers to that

Shortly after dock-off the remaining non-sailing members of the team all gathered in the Sailors' Terrace to watch the start of the race.

"Well, well, well," begins James 'Irish' O'Mahony, Boat Captain of 11th Hour Racing Team shoreside holding a beer. "Well done team. We've done everything we possibly can. The rest is out of our hands... so I'm going to say cheers to that!"

The first 17 minutes of the race were relatively uneventful, the various Ocean Race teams watched the broadcast together at the beginning of a traditional gathering unofficially referred to as the 'Thank God They've Gone' party.

Brace for impact

Out of nowhere the room collectively gasps and those loosely paying attention to the TVs jerk their heads up to look at the screen just in time to see GUYOT environemment - Team Europe's bow very clearly heading straight for the aft section of 11th Hour Racing Team's port side hull.

"Whoa, WHOA," shouts Irish as the broadcast suddenly cuts away leaving the entire room guessing what had just happened. The 11th Hour Racing Team shore crew look panic-stricken, some with their hands on their heads and others grabbing the closest person. CEO Mark Towill hasn't moved or reacted, he's just staring blankly at the screen, waiting for confirmation of what everyone in the room knew, deep down, was inevitable.

Sure enough, when the replay came back on with the familiar voice of Niall Myant-Best, it showed a devastating collision of high impact between the two boats.

"NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO," screamed various voices in the room, perhaps GUYOT's shore team the loudest of all.

"No, no no no no no no! F**k!" Irish jumps out of his chair in disbelief.

"Team. It's beers down." The calm, unflappable voice comes from Mark. "Back to base everyone."

There's a sense of incredulity in the room. How, in daylight, easy conditions, and an uncrowded race course could something like this happen? 35,000 nautical miles around the world, through some of the harshest and perilous conditions on earth and it comes down to THIS?

... continue reading

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