At just three days long, Leg 6 is minuscule compared to recent legs of The Ocean Race, but that won’t mean any less drama given the close standings and six boats returning to the race.
The course follows an 800-mile wending path from Aarhus, Denmark, to The Hague in The Netherlands, with a “fly-by” turning mark in Kiel, Germany. The initial stages of the route are mired with navigational constraints, and we can expect light air as they navigate Denmark’s Great Belt and Kattegat.
“Compared to a trans-oceanic leg with lots of strategic options, now the focus will be on navigation and the management of transitions, basically getting the timing of sail changes right,” said 11th Hour Racing Team navigator Simon Fisher.
The VO65s have rejoined the race this leg, bringing five additional boats to the mix (the sixth VO65, Ambersail, will not return to the race). Going into the leg, WindWhisper Racing Team topped the podium, followed by Team Jajo and Austrian Ocean Racing powered by Team Genova. Tactically, they face a somewhat different race from the IMOCA 60s as they will not be going south to Kiel, instead heading straight for The Hague. With just three scoring opportunities, every knot counts for this fleet. It’s very much anyone’s game.
Also rejoining the race is the IMOCA 60 Guyot Environment, which dismasted at the end of Leg 4. The team diverted to Halifax, Nova Scotia, and missed Leg 5. Getting a new mast and shipping the hull across the Atlantic in time to meet up with the rest of the IMOCA 60s posed potentially campaign-ending challenges. However, the EU team persevered and will have another shot at putting some points on the scoreboard. After retiring due to delamination shortly into in Leg 3, the team has just two leg finishes under its belt. In part because the race is so long and in such extreme conditions, race rules allow a boat to make repairs and restart a leg or retire and come back for later legs once repairs are made, however not scoring in the two double points legs and one additional leg have left Guyot Environment in last place by a significant margin.
Another shake up in the IMOCA 60 fleet is the ousting of former fleet-leading skipper Kevin Escoffier. Reports of an alleged sexual assault incident during the Newport stopover are being investigated, and team Holcim-PRB has announced that Escoffier will be stepping down.
In a statement, The Ocean Race said they are “committed to a safe environment for everyone on and off the water and will continue its work to promote inclusion in the sport of sailing.” The race organization also confirmed that they had not been the ones to receive the complaint and that it was a “matter to be dealt with by the team and the regulatory authorities for the sport of sailing…World Sailing has confirmed the French Sailing Federation (FFV) is the appropriate organization to investigate and apply sanctions (if any) in relation to this incident.”
Escoffier had been the only sailor consistently on Holcim-PRB for every preceding leg, and it’s unclear how his absence will affect performance. Benjamin Schwartz will step in as the new skipper, supported by Abby Ehler, Yoann Richomme, Martin Le Pape, and Georgia Schofield as the Onboard Reporter.
Going into Leg 6, Holcim-PRB was in second place by just one point. 11th Hour Racing Team lead the fleet, and Malizia was just a few points behind. These three teams are likely to round out the podium in Genoa.
For both fleets, it’s going to come down to the last legs, and there’s zero room for error in the final weeks of the race.
To follow the tracker, visit theoceanrace.com/en/racing/tracker
And if you need a refresher on Leg 5, relive the highlights with this episode of Racing Recaps: