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WindWhisper Racing Team wins Stage 3 into Genova to take The Ocean Race VO65 Sprint Cup

by The Ocean Race 26 Jun 2023 06:54 PDT 25 June 2023

WindWhisper Racing Team won the final leg of The Ocean Race VO65 Sprint into Genova, beating the rest of the fleet by a massive margin.

The Polish boat crossed the finish line in just six knots of breeze at 10:27:52 UTC with a leg time of 10 days 23 hours 17 minutes and 52 seconds. With the rest of the fleet still to cover more than 100 nautical miles in very light winds, WindWhisper could win the leg from The Hague to Genova by more than 18 hours.

With skipper Pablo Arrarte (ESP) unable to take part in the final leg, it was left to previous race winner Daryl Wislang (NZL) to take up the skipper's role. "It's an amazing feeling to arrive here, happy to be part of the team, and I was lucky enough to take the handlebars for the last leg."

Even though it always looked like a healthy lead entering the Mediterranean, the fickle nature of the breeze meant Wislang and the crew were never able to rest on their laurels. "The biggest challenge is trying to cover someone that far behind because the other boats were in completely different weather. Ultimately we decided we couldn't cover them and chose to sail the fastest way we could to the finish. There was no option to get back to the coast with the other guys."

The biggest responsibility for such big decisions always rests with the navigator, so Aksel Magdahl (NOR) rightly earns a lot of credit for his brave choices on the race course. "We had a tricky choice to make in the Mediterranean because the other boats were more than 100 miles behind," said Magdahl, who chose to keep on looking forwards rather than play a more traditional, defensive game of covering the opposition. "We decided to go towards the coast of Algeria to take the fastest route. We thought the other option to cover the other boats would be slow for us. So we went for what we thought was our fastest option and it worked out well for us."

Magdahl also wins the navigator's award, the Vasco da Gama Mirpuri Foundation Prize for first boat to pass the line of 37 degrees North latitude. That was largely down to a very good call to break away from the fleet in the English Channel, one which absent skipper Pablo Arrarte had been watching with great interest from ashore. "The guys made a big strategy call. The fleet was in light pressure and the big breeze was coming, and they stayed further north and the big pressure reached them first. That was the important moment to break away from the fleet."

From there the team never looked back, leading into the Strait of Gibraltar by a healthy margin. For Phil Harmer (AUS), today's victory is extra special as it happens on his 44th birthday. The two-time winner of the race was pleased to be back on board the VO65 and to have come through the Strait of Gibraltar at night, thereby avoiding the orca whales that paid a little bit too much attention to some of the other VO65s. "I think the orcas were asleep when we went through the Strait," he laughed. "We went through in stealth mode, managed to give them the slip, so we were lucky to get through unscathed."

Crew member Liz Wardley has a special connection with this particular VO65, having led the five-month refit of the boat that she had already managed in its previous guise as Team AkzoNobel. "It feels amazing to be here now. We had such a big lead into the Med and there was always the option that the others could catch us, so that was stressful. We did leg one well, we did leg six well, and now to win leg seven by more than a hundred miles is pretty cool. And finished in front of the IMOCAs too, so a double win."

While Pablo Arrarte and Daryl Wislang's WindWhisper Racing Team are enjoying some Genova hospitality after being the first arrival and winning The Ocean Race VO65 Sprint, seven boats remain at sea, fighting through light winds to get to the finish.

In the IMOCA class, it is Team Holcim-PRB at the head of the fleet. After enjoying some strong outflow winds off the coast of France overnight, the team is now back in the slow lane, in winds near 5 knots, with 100 miles to go to the finish line.

"Last night we had very welcome wind - 20-25 knots of wind - and this was wonderful as the boat loves wind and we love the boat when it is flying so we were happy," said Ambrogio Beccaria, the Italian sailor on the Holcim-PRB boat, overnight. "And we still have some good comfort on board, it's steady and nice sailing."

Looking ahead there are still some shifts and changes to navigate before the finish.

"We are now heading north to the next transition," said skipper Ben Schwartz early on Monday afternoon, joking that they are placing bets on the arrival time on board. "Ahead of us is a transition to a southwesterly wind, and this is the wind that could bring us to Genova... hopefully."

Biotherm, just behind, confirms it's not going to be straightforward.

"Still long to reach Genova... " said Paul Meilhat. "Really complicated from here until the finish line. Probably there will be a convergence of the fleet and then it might open up, some might choose the coast, some offshore. Many possibilities but we will make the final choice tonight."

Team Malizia also enjoyed the breezy conditions last night: "It's soooo good," said Will Harris. "We're doing about six-times the speed (30 knots) we've done for most of this leg!!"

For the VO65s, the fight now is for second place on Stage 3 and on the overall ranking for the VO65 Sprint. Team JAJO is two points clear of Austrian Ocean Racing / Team Genova on the overall leaderboard. But with the four VO65s spread out over just 15 miles, it's a wide open race still.

"The game is to stay focussed on all the little details," said JAJO skipper Jelmer van Beek.

"I think we are all going to be together again," said Gonzalo Infante, the navigator on Viva México. "And we just need to work out how to escape!"

Given the forecast, the ETA for the remaining boats is VERY uncertain, but the best estimate remains Tuesday morning local time. We will have updates on the website and make sure you keep checking the tracker for progress.

The latest positions are on the Race Tracker and the leaderboard is available here.

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