Spectacular speed and howling dogs on board Malizia in the closing stages of leg 2
The last few days in The Ocean Race have been all about speed – lots of it – and spectacular images and video captured by the OBRs, as the five-strong IMOCA fleet powers its way through the Southern Ocean towards South Africa.
The sensation of the raw power generated by the IMOCA foiling flyers has perhaps been no better illustrated than by a sequence of video from Paul Meilhat’s Biotherm, with OBR Anna Beaugé’s camera on deck capturing the forward speed of the boat and the river of white water powering off the stern.
On that boat, from the inside, we can feel and hear the water cascading over the coach roof, as the new Guillaume Verdier design forces her way through and over wave trains, with her foils, keels and rudder humming. The video includes shots of Anthony Marchand climbing the starboard outrigger – they bring home the vulnerability of a sailor on deck in a vast wilderness of ocean – and then concludes with images of an albatross wheeling over the golden waves at sunset.
On that boat, from the inside, we can feel and hear the water cascading over the coach roof, as the new Guillaume Verdier design forces her way through and over wave trains, with her foils, keels and rudder humming. Then the video cuts to shots of Anthony Marchand climbing the starboard outrigger – and you appreciate the vulnerability of a sailor on deck in a vast wilderness of ocean – and then to an albatross wheeling over the waves at sunset.
On leg leader Team Malizia, meanwhile, it’s the noise that hits us. Once that boat accelerates to over 20 knots of boatspeed, it starts howling like a pack of wolves as the appendages – the keel, twin rudders and foils – set up a vibrating harmonic that turns life on board into a 24/7 assault on its sailors’ hearing.
Skipper Will Harris, wearing head-cans, jokes: “I enjoy it. I love the sounds. It’s like music to my ears because it means the boat is going fast.”Then he adds: “Actually, after 20 minutes, it drives you totally crazy.”
On 11th Hour Racing Team Mãlama, we see the same spectacular images of raw power as we enjoyed on Biotherm, but the players are different, with Jack Bouttell and skipper Charlie Enright on watch. What you notice is how comfortable they are inside, dry and warm, while centimetres above them – outside their perspex domes – all hell is breaking loose on deck.
That is a big change in this edition of the race, after the fire-hose imagery that dominated the scenes from the old VO65s, on which the crews were constantly being deluged in tons of rushing water that could wash them overboard. In this race, sail changes, reefing and general maintenance require trips “outside” in full foul weather gear, but in between it’s dry, if noisy and violent.
Among the armchair sailors watching this drama unfold is the Team Malizia skipper Boris Herrmann, who was forced to step aside for this leg after he burned his foot with boiling water during the closing stages of leg one. Already in Cape Town with foot now recovered, Herrmann is eagerly awaiting the finish – and hoping his team can hold onto the lead they have held for most of the last three or four days, as Mãlama and Kevin Escoffier’s crew on Holcim-PRB snap at their heels.
Herrmann says the noise on his boat is a problem the shore team has been discussing in technical meetings during this leg. “We discussed that today with the technical team again,” he told the Class. “We need to do big efforts to keep the appendage profiles, and the trailing edges of the profiles, really clean. We are working on trying to reduce the noise. It comes from all five of the appendages. The worst, I think, is the keel but it’s the rudders as well.”
You can tell that this is actually a serious problem, and will be an issue when the team tackles 36 consecutive days in the Southern Ocean on the next leg. Herrmann is well aware they need to find a way to mitigate it. “It’s super-difficult to live with on board,” he added, “and the crew described that in their video. We are really, really putting a lot of emphasis and effort on it in terms of what we can do, and we will do more trailing edge modifications for this reason.”
The charismatic German skipper has been impressed with the way Harris and his crew – Yann Eliès, navigator Nico Lunven and female sailor Rosalin Kuiper – have handled this leg so far. Remember, they were seemingly out of contention for the first 10 days, before storming into the lead as the course headed ever further south.
“They were patient, investing in the west and staying west,”he said of their early strategy. “It is always easy to say afterwards, but that obviously paid off. They seem to sail really clean. They have been really keen and eager and they seem to be pushing and being very focused and concentrated. So the fact of being in last place didn’t put them off. If anything, I think, it increased their hunger.”
Early in the leg, Harris admitted they were struggling to find the right set-up for the boat in medium foiling conditions. Herrmann reckons they have found some solutions during the course of a trial and error process since then. “They are gaining a few percent here and there all the time,” he said. “If it is a transition, they are finding their modes quicker and overall they are doing a great job. I mean, not being on the boat, it’s not easy to know exactly…but they are not making many mistakes which is really cool. But the race is far from over, let’s keep feet on the ground and knock on wood and hope they will be able to keep it going.”
One thing Herrmann couldn’t help noticing was a comment from Bouttell on video footage from Mãlama. He remarked that the boat would accelerate to the point when the foils would start to hum. Then it would experience what Bouttell called “an inevitable nosedive” as the bow dug into the wave in front. Herrmann says that does not happen on his IMOCA.
“We don’t have that perception on our boat,”he said. “You can basically walk around without holding onto anything and the boat never has this ‘Brrrrr’ brutal stuffing nose moment. So that is a great plus for the comfort on board and, I guess, for the average speed also.”
The Malizia skipper can’t wait to get back on board for leg three – the 12,750-nautical mile marathon from Cape Town to Itajai in Brazil – when he will take the place of Eliès, who will rejoin in Brazil. “I am absolutely looking forward to it. I mean the next leg is the pinnacle of this race,”said Herrmann. “The whole race so far has been fantastic. But really the next leg is the big one. It’s the one also looking towards the Vendée Globe. It’s the one where you really want to push your boat through the south. It’s the one where there will be the big advantage for the five skippers compared to other competitors in the Vendée – that we will have sailed our boats through the Southern Ocean. This next leg is the reason why we are here in this race…”
In the meantime, the latest positions show Team Malizia fighting hard to stay in front, with a margin of less than two miles ahead of Holcim-PRB, with Mãlama just another mile back. Behind them both Biotherm (+70), and backmarker Guyot Environnement-Team Europe (+261), continue to catch up.
Ahead, the weather over the final stages up to the finish on Table Bay on Sunday looks complex, with a patch of light airs that may compress as the boats head further north. The question is can Malizia hang on or will her weight penalise her in the lighter conditions?
Harris is determined to keep the crew pushing until the end. “I feel the pressure,” he said. “I can feel it as the boats start to catch us up now. I can feel almost frustration I would say, wanting to stay at the front. But we are going to do everything we can to stay between the finish line and the other boats…there are still three days of sailing. We’ve got to keep a good routine and keep the emotions nice and calm – this team has done a great job of that so far.”
On a final note, the comedy award for the leg so far has to go to Sam Goodchild on Holcim-PRB. OBR Georgia Schofield recorded some great banter between the British sailor and his young French counterpart Tom Laperche. Both of them were still trying to come to terms with the fact that in the huge emptiness that is the Southern Ocean, they had managed to select a race track that put them on collision course with a tiny lump of land called Gough Island – a (volcanic) British overseas territory.
“Last night was definitely not a night (to remember)…” explained Goodchild amid much laughter on what sounds like a happy ship. “There was quite a bad sea state, with gusty winds from 15-25 knots, and a boat that was just unmanageable. We were doing a lot of (holding on). So it was just impossible to keep the beat going, and then someone put an island on our route and we had to try and go round the island. So I woke up Tom. I said ‘there’s an island.’ He said ‘yeah, I know there’s an island. What are you going to do about it?’ I don’t know, (I told him), it’s an island. We went round the island…and that was it. We had a lovely time.”
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