11th Hour Racing Team sets off for home on Leg 4 of The Ocean Race
11th Hour Racing Team sets off for home on Leg 4 of The Ocean Race
11th Hour Racing Team has set off on Leg 4 of The Ocean Race bound for Newport, Rhode Island, the home of its sponsor, 11th Hour Racing. The only US entry crossed the startline just moments before the 1315 local (1615 UTC) starting gun sounded but, along with GUYOT environnement - Team Europe, were recalled, having to return to behind the startline and recrossing. "It's a game of inches," commented team CEO, Mark Towill on the global broadcast feed.
Overall, the team, racing its sixty-foot IMOCA, Mālama, is currently lying in third place on the Race leaderboard, one point adrift of second-placed Malizia and six points behind Holcim-PRB. With 56% of the points still available on the leaderboard, the ambition to be top of the podium at the Race finish in Genoa, Italy, is still firmly in its grasp.
The crew line-up for Leg 4 of the round-the-world race is Skipper, Charlie Enright (USA), Simon Fisher (GBR) as Navigator, Francesca Clapcich (ITA) trimming, Amory Ross (USA) as the Media Crew Member, joined for the first time in this edition by six-time veteran of the race, Damian Foxall (IRL) also as a Trimmer, as part of the anticipated crew rotation.
During this leg, 11th Hour Racing Team will be the only competitor using eDNA sampling through the onboard science equipment. The team will gather data to sequence and analyze plankton diversity along the route from Brazil to Rhode Island, excellent indicators of the effect that stressors such as pollution and climate change have on the health of our ocean.
Skipper Enright, who lives in Barrington, Rhode Island, is looking forward to racing to the Ocean State. "This leg is unbelievably important to me - heading home to Newport. At this juncture in the race, this leg means more to us than all the others. Although not double points, it feels that important as we are up against it on the leaderboard. But we have had an awesome stopover here, winning the In-Port Race on Friday, and we are looking to carry that momentum forward."
Francesca Clapcich (ITA) is back onboard Mālama, having started the race as the Trimmer for Legs 1 and 2. "It feels good to be back! It has been a while since I last sailed onboard the boat as Justine Mettraux raced for Leg 3 through the Southern Ocean. So I'm really pleased to be finally back at it, and it's probably one of the legs of The Ocean Race that I love the most. There will be a lot of different weather and different scenarios that can pan out, and I'm heading back home to where I live - the USA. I came here to Itajaí in a plane and now leaving on a boat - that's pretty awesome!"
The team's shore-based strategist, Marcel van Triest (NED), gave the final briefing this morning alongside Chris Bedford, the team's meteorologist, looking at the first week of anticipated conditions. He broke the next seven days of racing down into five steps.
"Step one is this afternoon - dealing with the clouds, convergence, and inshore sea breezes, and the question will be whether they go offshore straight away or try to utilize what is inshore for as long as possible. Step two is longer term, do they want to work the offshore side straight away or the inshore side all the way up to São Sebastião, then come out? That's a big phase of the race, and it will have a knock-on effect for step three.
"Then Charlie and Simon will have to decide whether they go inside or outside of the oil field exclusion zone. The earlier you get to it, the more likely they will head outside, and that could create a split in the fleet. The next obstacle is the Abrolhos Bank Exclusion Zone, and by then, they will be caught by a cold front that is sweeping in from the south. As it goes north, it will get warmer, and by the time it has reached them, it will have converged into almost a doldrums effect, with showers and rain. I could envisage compression in the fleet at this point. Then step five is the actual doldrums, do they push out into them further offshore, or sail closer to the Brazilian coast?
"It will be like dominoes - all the domino pieces will have to line up carefully to fall into place. If one is too far separated from the last one, it falls but doesn't take over the next one, and that's when gaps will appear in the fleet."
The final obstacle in the team's path is the Sargassum seaweed, a 5,000 nautical mile band of brown seaweed - a type of algae - that floats in island-like masses and never attaches to the seafloor. In the open sea, healthy patches of Sargassum can soak up carbon dioxide and serve as a critical habitat for marine life, but as it moves closer to the coast, the seaweed can wreak havoc on local ecosystems, smothering coral reefs and altering the water's pH balance.
The team uses satellite images to identify the location of the seaweed, but skipper Enright doesn't anticipate altering course to avoid the obstacle.
"If we do run into it, getting it off the appendages can be tough. These boats have kick-up rudders and so it can easily be removed from there, and the foils are usually less of an issue because if they are down then we are usually doing speeds where the boat can handle cutting through it quite cleanly.
"It's when it is on the keel - that's when it is difficult to deal with, we have to floss it off, often by backing down," he continues. "It isn't worth routing differently because of the Sargassum, but it is going to be a real pain as there are historic amounts on our route."
Navigator Simon Fisher (GBR) is responsible for the onboard routing, "It is quite a complicated day, not particularly windy, but still plenty to look out for. There is offshore pressure right now blowing up the coast, but offshore there is better wind but a big convergence line in between. So we will do the inshore lap and then have to pick the right moment to get through all the complicated stuff, to hopefully be in better wind offshore and heading up the coast.
"We will sail our own game plan, but if we can corral the fleet one way or the other, then we will certainly take that opportunity. In the first few days of the leg, everyone's conscious of not losing too much ground or doing anything too radical."
As the sailors walked down to the dock, led by a marching band and cheered on by thousands of spectators, there was a celebratory atmosphere in the Race Village. "It's such a joy to be here, and leaving Itajaí is always emotional as it is a pretty special place," commented Foxall. "This is where you really feel the passion in the city, and the people here really get behind the race. We've been here for a month, and we have been made to feel very welcome. It's very cool to sail out of here, and I'm looking forward to getting going."
In addition to Enright, Amory Ross, the onboard media crew member, is also heading back to his home state. "This race is about the sailors and the sailors getting to go somewhere where sailing is hugely popular. Newport is as much ready for us as we are for it. I can't wait to sail home, and I can't wait to see the welcome on the other end for us and the rest of the fleet. It's a great leg for us to kick into the second half of the race with new energy, vigour, and a lot of excitement.
"I'll really feel like I'm home when I see the wind farm off Block Island or, more significantly, the Newport Bridge; it's so high, you can see it long before you can see Aquidnick Island or land itself. It is such an identifiable landmark, and when it is in my sights, that's when I'll feel like I'm back home in Rhode Island."