Kevin Escoffier's team Holcim-PRB has won the first leg of The Ocean Race, holding off a hard-charging 11th Hour racing Team, while Poland’s WindWhisper Racing Team won the VO65 Sprint Leg
It marked the end of an intense and challenging opening to The Ocean Race – from storm force headwinds in the Mediterranean to fast downwind conditions in the Atlantic with tactical options around the Canary Islands.
The Holcim-PRB team took the lead just before Gibraltar Strait and held on the rest of the way despite the strong pushes from 11th Hour Racing Team and Malizia.
Finally, early on Saturday, Escoffier and his crew raced across the finish line on the waters off Mindelo, Cabo Verde, just after 02:01:59 UTC, completing an impressive performance on the first leg of the Race.
“The boat is great. Both upwind and downwind, reaching, we have always been fast,” Escoffier said. “I’m very happy to start like this. It was our first race together as a full crew and I don’t regret any of the the choices. They are all great and together we went for the win.”
Second across the line was Charlie Enright’s 11th Hour Racing Team, who held off a late challenge from Team Malizia on the final day of the leg.
“I think the competition is good,” said Enright on the dock after finishing. “We have fast boats, good sailors. There are different strengths and weaknesses in the boats. Everyone is going to have their day and we’re certainly not taking anything for granted but if we focus on what we can control I think we’re going to be fine. We’re jumping at the opportunity to get going on the next leg.
For Boris Herrmann, securing a podium finish puts the German team in a safe position after the opening leg, with six more legs of racing left to gain points.
“I’m super-happy with the performance of the boat and the team,” said a jubilant Herrmann moments after the finish. “It took nearly three days before we could even speak to each other as the boat was so loud and brutal in the tough conditions after the start. Then we started to an almost champagne sailing situation, quite fast and nice.”
The top three IMOCAs finished within five and a half hours, while fourth-placed Biotherm and GUYOT environnement – Team Europe arrived in Mindelo later on Saturday night.
Beating the last two IMOCA 60s across the line, was the leading VO65 as Poland’s WindWhisper Racing Team finished earlier on Saturday with an impressive class victory.
As Paul Meilhat’s Biotherm and Benjamin Dutreux’s GUYOT environnement – Team Europe completed the IMOCA rankings overnight on Saturday, the Dutch Team JAJO earned a strong second place finish in The Ocean Race VO65 Sprint.
Dutch skipper Jelmer van Beek led his team across the finishing line at 17:52:52 UTC for a leg time of 6d 4h 52m 52s.
“We struggled a little bit in the first part of the race, we couldn’t keep up with the others, but when we came out of Gibraltar we were getting better and better, sail changes were better, we sailing sharper,” van Beek said. “We can always find a little bit more speed, get a little quicker, but we are happy with a second place finish. It’s really nice to be here in Cabo Verde.”
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With the top two positions decided, it appeared Mirpuri Foundation Racing Team would claim third position. But as the team approached Mindelo, it announced it would retire from Leg One after having missed a mark of the race course back in the Gibraltar Strait.
Observant fans of the race tracker will recall the Mirpuri Foundation Racing Team boat traced a course to the south of, and into, an exclusion zone, which was also designated as a mark of the race course. By not correcting the error, the team would not have scored points for its efforts in stage one of the race, and elected to retire from the leg before finishing.
A statement from the team read: “… technical issues onboard resulted in us failing to leave the South Gibraltar Exclusion Zone to port as per the racing instructions. As we have missed a mark of the course the team has made the decision to retire from Leg One of The Ocean Race VO65 Sprint 2023.”
“We are very disappointed for this,” admitted skipper Antonio Fontes. “But the crew has done an amazing job getting us out of the Mediterranean in very hard conditions. Then we had the super fast sailing conditions in the Atlantic and it was a lot of fun racing from Gibraltar to here.”
The retirement opened the door to a podium finish for Austrian Ocean Racing powered by Team Genova, who were the last team enter The Ocean Race VO65 Sprint and only arrived in the start port of Alicante, Spain days before the beginning of the event.
The fourth VO65 to finish was the Lithuanian-flagged Ambersail 2, arriving on Sunday morning.
That leaves Viva Mexico as the only team still racing. Skipper Erik Brockmann and his team is still 600 miles away from Cabo Verde after stopping in the Spanish port of Almeria to make changes to their mainsail.
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