A Mediterranean Sea with all its pitfalls, a wind forecast with various question marks, a leg with many possibilities for success and failure: the third leg of The Ocean Race Europe from Alicante/Spain to Genoa/Italy will demand everything from the twelve teams in the two classes – above all strong nerves. It does not seem possible to say anything about the outcome. Robert Stanjek, skipper of Offshore Team Germany, is cautious about the last offshore leg, despite his self-confidence due to the good results so far, before a Coastal Race on 19 June off Genoa will decide the first edition of this European regatta.
600 nautical miles separate the teams from the race’s destination when the seven VO65s are sent on their way at 1 pm on Sunday and the five Imocas 20 minutes later. 1100 kilometres of distance, with many route options to choose from along the coast or the Balearic Islands and Corsica. The weather forecasts do not make the choice any easier: conditions in the Mediterranean are notoriously changeable and unpredictable at this time of year. On their leg, the crews will probably have to cope with strong winds, but also prolonged calm. Distinct high-pressure zones with light headwinds could dominate the race between Spain and Italy.
“In this leg you will have to be very patient, not too greedy,” says Robert Stanjek. “You have to be ready for comebacks. It is obvious that there will be many changes in conditions. The wind will drop several times a day, the fleet will be split up and brought back together. It will be difficult risk management in the Mediterranean.”
The starting position for Stanjek and his crewmates Phillip Kasüske, Annie Lush and Benjamin Dutreux ahead of the final third of The Ocean Race Europe is better than previously hoped. After fourth place on the first leg, victory in the Cascais Coastal Race and second place on the second offshore leg, Offshore Team Germany is tied on points with the leading team of “LinkedOut” (France) and third-placed “11th Hours Racing” (USA) in second place overall. “I am really proud of how the team managed to keep up with the modern high-tech Imocas. Our design is eight years older, but we sail the boat very well, to its limit. And we’ve always managed to come back when we’ve made a mistake. It’s incredibly fun. Everyone puts everything into it. You can see that in the results,” says Stanjek, and Annie Lush sees it the same way: “It’s a huge learning curve for us. If you find the right balance, it’s a huge opportunity. Yes, we have an older boat and everyone is focused on that – and we don’t have foils. But it depends a lot on how we sail the boat and how we use the team. It can be our biggest asset to figure out how to optimise our performance.”
The days from Alicante since Wednesday’s stage arrival have been used intensively by OTG’s shore crew to repair the damage to the daggerboard and wind electronics of ‘Einstein’. “The daggerboard has been a lot of work. But it looks good again now. The boat builders did a very good job there. The wind electronics are also working again. We also had our Code-Zero modified and replaced the foot panel. We hope to get a few more percent out of it. This will certainly be one of the core sails for this stage. The Shore team is confident that we can start the race handicap-free,” says Stanjek.
Nevertheless, the tasks are also weighing on the crew: “We are already a bit tired, even though we have had a few days off sailing. But we are not a big racing team and therefore some tasks – from press enquiries to administration – are waiting for us. Nevertheless, it’s cool. We are all motivated, we are doing well, we are healthy and happy. We have grown together well, we have a great learning curve. Everyone is excited for the final stage.”
The current podium finish would be a dream result for Offshore Team Germany, which is competing against the top international Imoca campaigns for the first time. But everything is still open. Team “Bureau Vallée” (France), which has so far fallen short of expectations, can also still climb to a podium place. “We still have one and a half races to go, we won’t raise any expectations, we’ll go to the start quite neutrally. If you are too greedy at the wrong moment, then everything can be over,” says Robert Stanjek.
Before the Coastal Race brings the final decision, the 600-nautical-mile leg can drag on for a long time. The routing expects an arrival on Thursday morning. However, some teams have brought food on board before the start up to and including Friday.