The Ocean Race In Port race preview © Sailing Energy/The Ocean Race
The Ocean Race In Port race preview
The battle for The Ocean Race begins this Sunday, 8 January, as the fleet prepares for the first In Port Race in Alicante. There will be separate races for the two different classes of boat in the competition.
1400 hours: Start of the VO65 In-Port Race
1600 hours: Start of the IMOCA In-Port Race
What's the In-Port Race all about?
Although The Ocean Race has always been very much about the thrill and skill of crossing open oceans, the In-Port Race Series has long been a popular and an integral part of the race's DNA.
The 2022–23 edition features in-port races at seven of the course's stopover cities around the world where local fans can get up close and personal to the teams as they battle it out around a short inshore course.
Although in-port races do not count towards a team's overall points score they do play an important part in the overall rankings as the In-Port Race Series standings are used to break any points ties that occur during the race around the world.
Typically staged close enough to shore that fans in the stopover city can enjoy the action from dry land, in-port races are often fast and furious affairs that test the sailors' boat handling capabilities to the max.
If the weather conditions allow, each team carries three guests on board during in-port races. Although for safety reasons they are not allowed to participate in racing the boats, these lucky people get as close to the heart of the action as it is possible to be, and one supremely fortunate individual could be selected by the skipper to take the helm for the final leg of the course.
Winning the start is often the key to victory at the finish. Principal Race Officer Bill O'Hara has opted for a reaching start, which means the boats will be starting with the wind blowing from side-on, approximately 90 degrees. "The IMOCAs are not designed for close-quarters manoeuvring, so the reaching start makes sense," says O'Hara, a former Olympic competitor for Ireland. "Also, it gives the IMOCAs the best chance of popping up on their foils, which we have never seen before in the history of the race."
The Race Course
O'Hara is planning a rectangular course, aiming for at least two laps with a target finish time of 45 minutes for the IMOCA fleet who start at 1600 hours. "If we get a moderate breeze strength of, say, 10 knots, then I reckon the first leg will be a 1.5 nautical mile (nm) reach, downwind for 0.5nm, a 2nm reach along the bottom, upwind for 0.5nm, then 0.5nm back to the start/finish line."
For the VO65s who start earlier at 1400 hours, O'Hara is planning more of a square-shaped course to allow more tactical manoeuvres on the race course, opportunities for race-winning tacks and gybes with boats that are more easily handled in close-quarters situations.
As of Saturday 7 January, the weather forecast looks good for Sunday's racing, according to O'Hara. "The weather models point to breeze somewhere over 10 knots, with the breeze building during the afternoon and possibly gusting near 15 knots. It's looking like we could be in for some good wind!" This should be enough to see the IMOCAs pick up speed on the reaching legs and get fully foiling, hitting speeds in excess of 20 knots.
Runners & Riders
With manoeuvres difficult to execute on an ocean-going IMOCA, winning the start is going to be more critical than ever in this fleet. Judging your time-on-distance approach on a reach to the start is going to be difficult, and no one has got their time-on-distance down better than an expert in match racing. GUYOT environnement is packed with Olympic levels of talent. Aside from co-skipper Robert Stanjek being a former Star World Champion, Annie Lush represented Great Britain at the London 2012 Games in women's match racing, and the winning skipper from those Olympics was none other than fellow GUYOT teammate Tamara Echegoyen from Spain.
While Susann Beucke might be new to offshore racing, the Tokyo 2020 Olympic silver medallist in the 49erFX skiff will provide useful close-quarters experience for the German sailor to bring to Kevin Escoffier's crew aboard Team Holcim - PRB. 11th Hour Racing's Francesca Clapcich also comes from a recent Olympic background, having twice represented Italy at the 2012 and 2016 Games, and will be on leeward lookout for the team during the In-Port Race, while skipper Charlie Enright keeps a weather eye on race and spectator traffic.
The small boat experience on Paul Meilhat's Biotherm comes from Damien Seguin, a double Paralympic Champion from France. Team Malizia skipper Boris Herrmann will be drawing on his former life as a 505 dinghy sailor to remind him of the close quarters manoeuvring that will be required during the pre-start of the In-Port Race.
The VO65s will be champing at the bit to get off the start line in good shape. Expect some aggressive pre-start manoeuvring as they jockey for position. Like the IMOCA crews, there is some world-class small-boat talent scattered throughout the VO65 fleet. Tokyo 2020 Laser Radial Olympian Magdalena Kwaśna is ready to do her bit for skipper Pablo Arrarte and Windwhisper Racing Team from Poland.
Former Laser Radial competitor Tania Elías Calles is a four-time Olympic representative from Mexico who joins skipper Erik Brockmann aboard Viva México. Brockmann himself is well used to close-quarters competition as a past J/70 keelboat world championship, as well as skippering Mexican teams in high-speed catamarans in the Extreme Sailing Series.
Ambersail 2 is skippered by Lithuanian Olympic representative from London 2012 Rokas Milevičius – who, when he raced aboard Team Brunel in 2014–15, became the first Lithuanian sailor to take part in The Ocean Race. Milevičius' Olympic experience should stand him in good stead off the start line. The Olympic experience runs deep through Antonio Fontes' crew on Mirpuri Foundation Racing Team. Hugo Rocha has a 470 Olympic bronze medal, Diogo Cayolla is a three-time representative for Portugal, and Francisco Cruz has raced a windsurfer at the Games for Argentina.
Team JAJO from the Netherlands is full of youth and exuberance, although their not-so-secret weapon to bring some age and experience is Dutchman Bouwe Bekking, an eight-time veteran of The Ocean Race. Gerwin Jansen's team on Austrian Ocean Racing powered by Team Genova are young and the least experienced of all the crews. A clean start by Jansen, and letting the other teams make mistakes, would probably be a good strategy for their first In-Port Race as they look to build on their lack of racing miles.