Incredibly light winds in Alicante for the first in-port race of The Ocean Race made for frustrating racing for the IMOCA 60 and VO65 fleets

Although competitors in The Ocean Race 2022-23 do not set off on the first leg of the crewed round the world race (for the IMOCA‘s at least, the VO65 fleet will not be racing around the globe) for another week, the event itself started this weekend in Alicante, Spain with the opening of Ocean Live Park and the first In-Port Races.

On what turned out to be a warm January weekend in Alicante, nearly 50,000 fans enjoyed the opening days of the race in Ocean Live Park, while the VO65 and IMOCA 60 teams took to the waters off the ‘Puerto de Salida’ for Sunday’s In-Port Races.

The Ocean Race IMOCA60 – Alicante In-Port Race

Boris Herrmann‘s Team Malizia (GER) won the In-Port Race Alicante after a frenetic battle that saw four of the five IMOCAs hold the lead at some point during a highly unpredictable contest.

Fastest starter in about 9 knots of wind was Biotherm (FRA) skippered by Paul Meilhat. However, a smaller J2 headsail choice worked well for 11th Hour Racing Team (USA), skippered today by Simon Fisher. The American boat semi-foiled into a small lead by the first turning mark.

At the end of the second leg, Fisher’s crew elected to continue on starboard for 200 metres before gybing. Meanwhile the two boats at the back, Team Holcim – PRB (SUI) and Guyot Environnement – Team, executed an immediate gybe at mark two and launched into the lead past the three boats ahead of them.

Kevin Escoffier (FRA) and his Holcim crew shot off down the track to a healthy lead. But then on the upwind leg, all change again. A big left-hand windshift and a dropping breeze saw Escoffier stranded as the fleet behind hooked into the changing wind direction sooner than the race leader. For the second time, the pecking order turned inside out.

From lying in fourth place, Team Malizia took the lead for a few minutes, only to be displaced by 11th Hour Racing Team who had moved up from last back into first.

Neck and neck down the next leg, the German boat rolled over the top of the Americans and moved into a lead which Herrmann and the Malizia crew would hold until the finish.

“It’s great to come with the win today as we’ve had to work really hard to get to the start line of this race as we had to replace the foils last week,” said Malizia’s Will Harris. “It was a really tricky race. The wind was anywhere between 15 and 2 knots of wind. I think we really showed that we’re quite adaptable. We can really tune this boat nicely and we’ve worked hard to get it set up and to work well as a team.

“It got quite intense after the first lap where we managed to find an extra bit of wind and overtake the boats that were ahead. We realised that we need to sail a much higher mode and managed to kind of stay in the wind while the others got a bit stuck. So good work to Nico (Lunven) and Boris (Herrmann) on spotting the wind and spotting the right kind of tactical play.”

IMOCA 60 results 

1: Team Malizia, 5 points
2: 11th Hour Racing Team, 4 points
3: Biotherm, 3 points
4: Guyot environnement – Team Europe, 2 points
5: Holcim-PRB – did not finish, 0 points

The Ocean Race VO65 – Alicante In-Port Race

In barely a breath of wind, WindWhisper Racing Team ghosted across the finishing line the VO65 In-Port Race Alicante by a comfortable margin. Such was the lead established by skipper Pablo Arrarte (ESP) and his predominantly Polish and Spanish crew, the other five boats failed to finish inside the 15-minute time limit which started ticking the moment WindWhisper had slipped across the finish line.

Out of the reaching start, with the wind off Alicante barely reaching 4 knots, four of the six boats started neck and neck on slightly different sail configurations. But it was the most leeward position of WindWhisper that edged the Polish boat into pole position as the bright red boat rounded mark one of the rectangular course with a slender but critical lead.

As Arrarte’s crew gradually drifted away to a big lead ahead of the chasing pack, battles ensued for the minor placings. However, while WindWhisper was able to maintain momentum, the faltering breeze vanished into thin air, leaving the other five teams stranded, unable to cross the finish line.

Arrarte paid tribute to his team and put their success down to good judgement at the start. “We’re very happy to win the In-Port Race,” said the Spanish skipper, a four-time veteran of the race. “It was very tricky, the wind didn’t help much, but ‘Ñeti’ (crewmember Antonio Cuervas-Mons) made a great call at the start and put us in a good place, which made it a little bit easier [to win].”

So 6 points for the winner, and no points for the rest. A brutal way to start the campaign for five of the teams, but a chance for redemption when the 1900 nautical mile Leg 1 of The Ocean Race VO65 Sprint Cup begins in a week’s time, the departure from Alicante to Cabo Verde.

VO65 results

1: WindWhisper Racing Team, 6 points
2: Team JAJO, did not finish, 0 point
2: Mirpuri Foundation Racing Team, did not finish, 0 points
2:Viva Mexico, did not finish, 0 points
2: Ambersail 2, did not finish, 0 points
2: Austrian Ocean Racing – Team Genova, did not finish, 0 points

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