The first stage of The Ocean Race Europe had an exciting denouement in Cascais, Portugal, where the winners in the VO65 and IMOCA 60 classes were decided in the closing moments of the four-day journey that began in Lorient, France.
A thrilling finish on the VO65 monotypes saw The Austrian Ocean Race Project, skippered by Gerwin Jansen (NED), clinch a remarkable victory coming from behind to overtake Lithuanian team Ambersail-2 of Rokas Milevičius by just six seconds.
“It’s crazy that we won this super intense race”Jansen said from the helm, moments after crossing the finish line. “Have you seen that? Four ships in a row. What a wild regatta. We are super happy! ”.
Later, already on the dock, he added: “We are the rookies, the young team, we don’t have much experience… The last 30 miles were very intense, it was incredible. We keep fighting and this has been the result! ”.
15 seconds behind, in third place, came Dutch skipper Simeon Tienpont’s Team Childhood I, and all seven boats in the fleet finished within six minutes.
Meanwhile, in the IMOCA class, Nicolas Troussel’s CORUM L’Épargne (FRA) took the win, ahead of Charlie Enright’s 11th Hour Racing Team in second place, and Thomas Ruyant’s LinkedOut (FRA) in third place. .
“It was an intense regatta … and we knew that everything could be decided here as everything can be decided in Alicante and then in Genoa in the last stage”said Troussel. “Anyway we are very happy with this victory, we fought very hard and the end was magical for us.”
Cruising speed, in a straight line from the Atlantic crossing beacon, had been maintained overnight for both classes, but around 0600 UTC Tuesday the entire fleet began to compress as the crews of the IMOCA 60s and VO65s they began to strategically position themselves to surround the large exclusion zone that blocked their way to the finish line.
In the VO65s, the leader from the start, the Portuguese boat Mirpuri Foundation Racing Team, was the only one to choose the northern route, while the rest of the fleet squeezed around the southwest corner of the exclusion zone.
The last 40 miles of the stage saw the qualifying positions change incessantly, almost with each new gust of wind.
Things were even more unpredictable in the last 15 miles as the fleet slowed down in light winds from a cold front heading towards the Portuguese coast.
A split between the six southern VO65s put Sailing Poland, Team Childhood I and The Austrian Ocean Race Project slightly higher, while AkzoNobel Ocean Racing (NED), Ambersail-2 (LTU) and Viva Mexico (MEX) gybed heading south for a better angle for the final approach.
When the boats converged again in the last two miles the equality was tremendous between the Austrians, Ambersail-2 and Team Childhood I as they raced towards the finish line.
In the end, it was The Austrian Ocean Race Project, a new team with a relatively young and inexperienced crew, who came forward to clinch victory over Ambersail-2, second, with Team Childhood I completing the podium.
Proof of the incredible intensity of the regatta on the VO65 monotypes is that the seven crews finished only six minutes apart after four days of open water sailing.
The Canarian Sinbad Quiroga, in the ranks of Sailing Poland, was delighted at the finish line. “We had a heart attack finish, very exciting, we did not expect that the end of the front would be so difficult. It was an incredible accordion effect, we entered the first boats within ten seconds of each other. You have to be happy because it has been crazy ”.
By contrast, Willy Altadill saw his team, the Mirpuri Foundation Racing Team, slip away from victory in the final miles. “We had a small failure that cost us dearly, we were leading the entire stage but not being in the right place at the end cost us the race. We are going full and we have sailed well; now it’s time to go full throttle in all that remains ”.
The competition between the five IMOCA 60s was also highly contested, although a special mention must be made of the crew of Offshore Team Germany, led by the experienced ocean sailor Robert Stanjek, who recovered a gap of more than 100 miles to take the lead in the final approach to Cascais, before finishing in fourth place.
The decision on which route to follow around the exclusion zone was the deciding factor in the final IMOCA 60 ranking.
Louis Burton’s Bureau Vallée (FRA), CORUM L’Épargne and the 11th Hour Racing Team seemed keen to veer north, but a last-minute change of mind from CORUM L’Épargne, and the 11th Hour Racing Team les led down to the south.
Although this move initially seemed bad for the French and American teams, in the end it worked out well for them, as they managed to get around the exclusion zone fast enough to be able to overtake Offshore Team Germany and Thomas Ruyant’s LinkedOut, who had opted for the southernmost route.
The teams will have a well deserved rest on Thursday and Friday in Cascais, before competing on Saturday in a coastal regatta as part of the Mirpuri Foundation Sailing Trophy and facing the start of stage two, towards Alicante, on Sunday.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism