There are runaway winners, teams that come from behind to snatch a title at the last gasp, and then there are those that work their way up to a position where they become unbeatable. And in many ways those are the most impressive victors and 11th Hour Racing Team is in that category.

It is now well known that the team gave itself a big talking to during the Brazil stopover – after finishing second in the first two legs of The Ocean Race and then third in the big Southern Ocean stage – and it worked. From then on Charlie Enright’s outfit was the dominant force in an action-packed circumnavigation, even if they could not finish it on the water as a result of the crash with Guyot Environnement - Team Europe at The Hague. 

It’s not the way we wanted to do it, obviously,” Enright told the Class in Genova at the finish. “We would have rather got it done on the water, but sometimes that situation gets taken out of your hands. And if you look at our body of work – the offshore legs, the In-Port races – we never finished off the podium. Our average finish was second. That’s what we asked for in the redress and that’s what we were granted. On the overall leaderboard we were clear by three points, even if it didn’t really feel like that, because it was close the whole time.

It says a lot about the man that in his moment of victory Enright – who experienced big setbacks during this race and in the campaigns he skippered in the last two Volvo Ocean Races – was also thinking about those he has beaten. 

Every single competitor in this race has something to be proud of,” said the 38-year-old American skipper. “We faced our adversities, Team Holcim-PRB faced their adversities, as did Paul (Meilhat), Boris (Herrmann), the Guyot environnement - Team Europe – you don’t go round the world unscathed, you know. So there is a narrative that everyone should be proud of what they accomplished in this The Ocean Race, most definitely.”

Enright says the secret of his team’s success was not trying to make radical changes from Brazil onwards, but just tweaking every aspect to make the total effort more competitive. “I think the difference from then on was the sense of urgency,” he explained. “In Brazil our backs were against the wall. Everybody felt that and every single person came to work wanting to win and they just said ‘what can I do in my department, what can I do in my day-to-day, how can I help the team?’ because the product we had been rolling out to that point wasn’t getting the job done. Some of that was misfortune. But we did not over-try – we didn’t have to make massive changes. It was just a little bit here and there, but everybody bought into the concept.”

Talk to the team CEO Mark Towill and he mentions the way Enright matured as a leader during the campaign, adding a new, slightly more forceful, club to his bag. “Charlie has grown as he has been challenged in different ways and there has been a lot of adversity,” said Towill. “I think he has learned to change his style a little bit. He is very friendly and agreeable, and an everyone-likes-him-kind-of-guy, and he has learned that there is a time and a place to be stern. He has sort of expanded his repertoire of leadership skills I guess, and has matured in his decision making both on and off the water.

© Harry KH / 11th Hour Racing / The Ocean Race

Enright himself says what he learned during the race was how to feel comfortable while feeling uncomfortable. “It was learning how to be comfortable with a little bit of friction here and there and challenging people and trying to get the most out of them,” he said.

On the water, the stand-out players in this team (which also included core sailing team members Jack Bouttell, Justine Mettraux and Francesca Clapcich) were the pairing of Enright and his navigator Simon “SiFi” Fisher, who has now won The Ocean Race twice in six attempts. Like rivals Will Harris and Rosalin Kuiper on Malizia and Paul Meilhat on Biotherm, they completed the whole lap on this global marathon sailed in fully-crewed IMOCAs for the first time.

It was challenging and it was two different things,” explained Enright. “This racecourse, and Leg 3 in particular, has to be one of the hardest courses the race has ever had in its 50-year history. You combine that with the fact that it is on a platform (IMOCA) which is arguably the most difficult to sail. They are violent boats. They are short-handed and people were pushing them 100%, but 100% on these things is different than on a VO65.”

Towill could see better than anyone how critical to the team’s overall success the partnership between Enright and Fisher has been. “I think the dynamic between SiFi and Charlie has evolved over the last five or six years and SiFi has brought so much to this team. What do you need to say about the guy? He’s a steady hand, he’s incredibly competent and he’s really smart,” he said.

Like all the teams in this epic adventure, 11th Hour Racing Team is now going to take some time off to try and recover and to catch up on time lost with families and friends. “There’s a lot of sacrifice from everybody in this race – not only the sailors, the shore team, the communications department, the sustainability department,” said Enright. “You are on the road, you are travelling. The sacrifice is that you don’t get to see your family, but then your family doesn’t get to see you. So it’s when the sacrifice is mutually understood, accepted and respected – kind of with an eye on July – that you can get through these things.”

The good news from Towill is that this group of people, who combine powerful environmental and sustainability messaging with grand prix racing at the highest level, has not finished with the IMOCA Class just yet. “Offshore racing’s in our DNA,” he said, “and when you look around the ocean racing world, this is the strongest class that exists. I don’t have an specificity as to what our future plans are, but it would pretty hard not to imagine some sort of presence in the class in the future.

Ed Gorman