Team Malizia has won Leg 3, the longest leg of The Ocean Race ever, despite rig and sail damage that at one stage threatened to end their race in the Southern Ocean epic

Boris Herrmann‘s Team Malizia has won Leg 3 of The Ocean Race from Cape Town to Itajai, the longest ever ocean stage in the crewed around the world race.

Herrmann, crew Will Harris, Rosalin Kuiper, and Nico Lunven, together with on board reporter Antoine Auriol, crossed the finish line at 0220 local time in Brazil after 35 days and 14,700 nautical miles of racing.

Their victory was all the more remarkable because Malizia suffered serious rig damage just four days into the race which looked set to take the boat out of contention.

The Ocean Race 2022-23 – 2 April 2023. The Ocean Race 2022-23 – 2 April 2023. Team Malizia wins leg 3.

“Dreaming of doing The Ocean Race, doing this amazing leg through the Southern Ocean, finishing it after all the trouble we had early on, and winning it!! 

“Four weeks ago, if I had been told ‘Repair your mast because you might win this leg’ I would have not believed it and said that’s not possible, we are too far behind and can’t push the boat anymore. But it worked out beyond our expectations,” said Herrmann at the finish.

Team Malizia damage

After Guyot Environnement – Team Europe had to return to Cape Town early in the leg when the team discovered structural damage, the leg was a four-way competition between Holcim-PRB, Malizia, Paul Meilhat’s Biotherm and Charlie Enright’s 11th Hour Racing.

Whilst ahead of this race there had been much speculation about how the fully crewed IMOCAs would stand up to such a punishing stage, the race turned out to be a masterclass in how to manage both boat and crew from all four teams, despite inevitable gear attrition.

On March 2 Malizia lost their Code Zero over the side of the sail, which then wrapped around their keel and one of their foils and had to be cut free. Much worse was to come, when shortly after the team discovered a foot-long tear in the mast’s carbon structure just under the Code Zero fitting. 

With a gruelling 12,000-plus miles of Southern Ocean sailing ahead of them, few would have predicted that the IMOCA 60 mast would have stood up to the leg, but Will Harris completed a complex repair, which required him working for hours at the top of the 30m rig.

“When I think back to that day, we’d just started, we’d lost a sail and damaged the mast, we really thought about going back to Cape Town,” Will Harris recalls.

The Ocean Race 2022-23 – 2 March 2023, Leg 3, Day 4 onboard Team Malizia. Will Harris repairing the mast.

The longest leg

At the same time, Kevin Escoffier’s Holcim-PRB, the dominant boat of the race so far, had built a 600-mile lead that appeared to be uncatchable. 

Although the fleet compressed to within 200 miles by the time they reached the Tasmanian Scoring Gate, Escoffier still held the advantage and looked set to be able to defend their position.

Holcim-PRB also set a new 24-hour IMOCA record by covering a breath-taking 595.26 nautical miles (1102 kms) over Saturday 11-Sunday 12 March.

However, in the South Pacific Malizia’s superior wave-handling characteristics seemed to come to the fore, and Malizia reeled in Holcim-PRB to take the lead on 23 March, after nearly one month of racing.

The Ocean Race 2022-23 – 27 March 2023, drone view of Team Malizia, first team crossing Cape Horn during day 29 of Leg 3.

The fleet was neck-and-neck, at times just 10 miles separating the fleet as they raced near the furthest point from land along the virtual ice limits.

With both Biotherm and 11th Hour Racing having reported damage, Holcim-PRB and Malizia were locked into a two-way tussle for the final 2000 miles of the leg, Malizia holding the advantage as they rounded Cape Horn.

Intense finish

To further complicate things, in the violent sea state Malizia crew member Rosalin Kuiper was thrown from her bunk and suffered a head injury and concussion. While Kuiper was recovering, the Malizia crew was down to a three-person watch rotation for the rest of the leg just as the level of competition intensified yet again.

Skipper Herrmann paid particular tribute to his navigator Nico Lunven for managing this stage of the race in a press conference after the finish, saying: “Nico put such a huge investment in this leg. He was sailing like a Figaro sailor since Cape Horn, [working on our position] every 10 minutes.”

As they raced up the western coast of Brazil, in more moderate south Atlantic conditions, it looked briefly as if Escoffier would reclaim the advantage. However, the South was not quite done with the fleet, and on Friday 31 March a 50 knot squall tore over the leading pair, sending Holcim-PRB into two back-to-back crash gybes under autopilot. Fortunately the only damage was a couple of broken mainsail battens, but Escoffier’s team lost valuable miles.

The Ocean Race 2022-23 – 30 March 2023, Leg 3 Day 32 onboard Team Malizia. Drone view of Team Malizia and Team Holcim – PRB neck to neck after 32 days of racing.

As the two boats raced cat-and-mouse style up the Brazilian shore, Malizia managed to extend away, with an unassailable 60-mile lead going into the final 24 hours.

This leg results mean Holcim-PRB and Malizia both earned 9 out of a possible 10 points on leg 3 (between the scoring gate and the finish). Holcim-PRB remains with a solid lead after leg 3, while Malizia moves up to take 2nd overall, ahead of 11th Hour Racing Team in 3rd.