How fast is the wind front on the edge of the Azores High moving? The outcome of the first leg of The Ocean Race Europe depends crucially on the answer to this question. While the two leading crews of the Imoca fleet, “11th Hour Racing” (USA) and “LinkedOut” (France), enjoyed the advantage of being the first to enter the wind zone on the way to the way mark in the Atlantic and of pulling along with it after rounding the mark, they are now threatening to enter the low wind zone. This increases the chance for the chasers with Offshore Team Germany to make up some miles by the finish off Cascais/Portugal.
In an impressive manner, the two leading teams of the race showed the potential of the foiling Imocas when the conditions are right. The situation before reaching the virtual waymark in the Atlantic was like a painting. The organisers of The Ocean Race Europe had set a virtual course mark about 500 miles off the mainland coast for the first leg from Lorient to Cascais. And here, winds of over 20 knots of speed lay in wait for the fleet. “LinkedOut” and “11th Hour Racing” had built up a small lead in the race so far, reached the wind first and took off. Within a few hours, the gap to the direct pursuers “Bureau Vallée” (France) and “Corum L’Épargne” (France) tripled to currently around 60 nautical miles. The “Einstein” of Offshore Team Germany, which is the only Imoca still sailing without foils, also conceded a few more miles and is about 95 nautical miles behind the leaders after two nights at sea.
The advantage for the leading duo continued in the following hours. The wind field moved further east during the night, taking the USA and French teams down the highway after their gybes. However, the picture could change in the coming hours: If the pace of the front eases, the top teams will sail into the light wind and the chasers will come up with momentum. The “Einstein” under skipper Robert Stanjek is keeping her chances, sailing at over 20 knots at times and keeping the gap to the other two chasers within limits. The weather analyses of The Ocean Race see a close finish off Cascais as one option.
It would be more for OTG than could have been expected on the first leg of the three-part race. For without foils, the older generation yacht, which is still being prepared for the installation of underwater wings, was considered clearly inferior to the competition. However, with consistent use of their own possibilities, the crew with skipper Robert Stanjek as well as Annie Lush, Benjamin Dutreux and Phillip Kasüske have so far managed to keep contact with the front to such an extent that there may still be a surprise in the final phase of the first leg.