The unsung heroes of The Ocean Race have got to be the On Board Reporters or OBRs, the people who bring the reality of racing an IMOCA in the Southern Ocean to our computers and TV screens, with their videos, photos and audio.

They are not allowed to take part in the sailing of the boat in any way at all, but they still have to go through all the challenges of living and working on the most unstable and violent platforms in world sailing. It adds up to one of the toughest jobs not only in journalism but in professional sport too.

On board Team Malizia, the OBR is a charismatic 38-year-old Frenchman, and former kite surf pro world champion, who has been providing superb imagery of the trials and tribulations of a team who have contended with a lost sail and damage at the top of their rig.

Antoine Auriolhas been there to record it all and he is gritting his teeth as he endures what he calls his “military internship”in the Southern Ocean, part of what he hopes will be a complete world tour in this race on the boat skippered by Boris Herrmann.

Voir cette publication sur Instagram

Une publication partagée par Team Malizia (@team_malizia)

We put it to Auriol that he is currently doing the hardest job in international sport. “It’s true that it’s one of the hardest jobs, at least it’s the hardest job I’ve ever done,” he said. He said his previous work experiences, including shooting documentaries for French television, could not compare with what he is going through right now.

It’s nothing like the hardness of what I’m experiencing here in the IMOCA; it’s very uncomfortable,” he said. “I’ve been sick for a few days now and I’m having trouble recovering because the conditions are ‘wet-to-hard,’ but I remain positive."

I’m finding my rhythm, little-by-little and the story is still beautiful,” Auriol added. “I will be very happy to arrive in Brazil and also proud of myself, I think. So I’m holding on because there are going to be a lot of great things happening.

© Julien Champolion / polaRYSE / Team Holcim-PRB

Auriol says there are times when he wonders what on earth he is doing on board the German-flagged foiling flying machine, but there are others when he comes to realise just how special this experience in the Southern Ocean is. “You look out of the cockpit, you see the albatrosses, which are huge. They have a wingspan of at least two metres, these beasts. You see it gliding and you think ‘wow, to see that, you have to be here and live through those (tough) moments that don’t make you dream, for example when you’re editing and feeling like throwing-up as soon as you start to put your head in the computer," he said. 

On race leader Holcim-PRB, meanwhile, 24-year-old Frenchman Julien Champolion says even now he finds the violent motion of the IMOCA in big winds and big seas, frightening. “It’s even a bit scary because the sailors are pushing a lot – and I’m suffering,” he said laughing. “So the boat is hitting the sea very hard. It’s chilling. Sitting on a seat or lying in a bunk, you feel everything. Everything that happens in the hull, it strains the body. There are moments when I’m completely distressed because what’s happening is so powerful.

We asked Champolion, who has shot some superb drone footage from off the boat of Kevin Escoffier’s IMOCA flying eastwards at the head of the pack, to sum up the personalities on board. It makes for fascinating reading.

© Julien Champolion / polaRYSE / Team Holcim-PRB

On Escoffier: “He’s really the conductor on board. He is in charge of everything – life on board, navigation, repairs, food, cleaning. I consider him a bit like a director – he’s someone who gives it his all and has an ability to motivate and put a smile on other people’s faces. I’m impressed with him!

On Sam Goodchild: “Sam is honesty and quiet strength incarnate. And I find that he takes care of the others, so it’s nice in this kind of event to have people who are attentive and caring.”

On Abby Ehler: “She is very, very professional. She is a perfectionist. She manages the food on board and there are never any mistakes – it’s spot-on. The fact that she doesn’t speak French is always obvious because, with the fatigue and daily life, we quickly tend to revert to French. But you get used to it and you force yourself not to leave her out.”

On Tom Laperche: “I’m impressed with him. Because of his age (25) and all his knowledge, he has this ability to question other sailors who have a lot more experience than him. He is perhaps the person I am closest to on board, probably because we are almost the same age – we are the two youngest in the race.”

© Team Malizia

Champolion compares life on Holcim-PRB to a flat-share with five people living in an area of 15 square metres. As he notes: “It’s not often that you see that.” Although he can’t take part in the sailing, he does a lot of cleaning and checks whether the sailors need anything, like food or water. He says sleep is an important part of each day.

“It’s weird to live in a time zone, to go to bed at 3pm and to set an alarm clock to go and see the sunrise at 11pm. It’s quite an original experience. I try to sleep twice-a-day for 30 minutes, there’s no point in fighting fatigue. And in the evening I try to take two, two-hour naps. It’s not easy to wake-up. But I’m not the only one. I should make a video on the subject because it is quite funny.”

Back on Team Malizia, Auriol says he is determined to stick to his “all or nothing” decision to complete the entire race on Herrmann’s boat without taking a break for one leg. “There’s no way I am going to let go,” he confided. “I know I’m really going to grow as a person. I’m getting richer inside and I’m very lucky to be able to be around my whole crew.”

Ed Gorman