With a game of nerves in the light breeze off Genoa/Italy, the premiere edition of The Ocean Race Europe has come to an end. And Offshore Team Germany made it exciting until the last metre. But after a final thriller, sailing Germany was allowed to cheer in the Imocas, while Portugal celebrated victory in the VO65 with the „Mirpuri“ team. The overall victory of the German „Einstein“ is the surprise in this race. But the supposedly disadvantaged design of Offshore Team Germany was equal in the prevailing conditions during this European race. The Berlin skipper Robert Stanjek and his crew with Annie Lush (Pit), Benjamin Dutreux (Navigator) and Phillip Kasüske (Grinder) got everything out of the ten-year-old boat in the three offshore legs and two short races and prevailed against the four competitors of the latest generation with a second place in the final sprint race off Genoa.
The final after three weeks with the stages from Lorient/France to Cascais/Portugal as well as via the further stage destination Alicante/Spain finally to Genoa/Italy offered once again highest tension.
First of all, the nerves of all seven teams in the VO65 class and five in the Imoca class were tested to the limit. The doldrums off Genoa had spread intensively and the start had to be postponed for one and a half hours. But then it was off to the course with a light breeze at the lower limit of what could be sailed.
And the two leading teams in the classes, the „Mirpuri“ team in the VO65 and Offshore Team Germany in the Imocas, initially set the bar. After a half-wind course to the first course mark, both were ahead and went on the upwind.
OTG, however, faced the impossible task of having to cover the two strongest pursuers „LinkedOut“ (France) and „11th Hour Racing“ (USA). But the competition sailed a complete split with „LinkedOut“ on the right and „11th Hour Racing“ on the left. „Einstein“ went with the right and maintained a minimal lead at the second lane mark.
But then the tacking manoeuvre failed, the bow did not turn through the wind. „11th Hour Racing“ went through and was also faster on the final downwind course. This meant that the tactics of the „Einstein“ crew were clearly aimed at least defending second place against „LinkedOut“. But the modern Imocas were faster in this phase.
The US team pulled inexorably towards the finish, securing victory in the Coastal Race of Genoa. Behind them, a thriller was developing. „LinkedOut“ came closer and closer, trying to get OTG bad wind. Second place would give OTG the overall win, third place would also be just third overall.
It was coming to a head in a millimetre final. „LinkedOut“ pushed the bow past by a few hundred metres, but OTG had the better angle to the finish. With more speed, Robert Stanjek pulled the yacht towards the finish buoy. „LinkedOut“, on the other hand, had to go deeper and deeper to head for the finish. The German yacht had the right of way, „LinkedOut“ lost speed. The slipstream could no longer do anything.
With a little more speed, „Einstein“ pushed past the French team again in the final metres. All the experience of the Olympic sailors on board „Einstein“, the match race expertise of Annie Lush had paid off. After a total of 2000 nautical miles, three legs and two Coastal Races, a boat length or ten seconds advantage decided first, second and third place. In the end, it was the supposed outsider who was allowed to cheer.
With a one-point lead, Offshore Team Germany with Robert Stanjek, Phillip Kasüske, Annie Lush and Benjamin Dutreux – supported in turn by Onboard Reporter Felix Diemer and Boat Captain Ian Smyth – won their first regatta appearance in this formation against four of the most modern Imocas. „11th Hour Racing“ finished second overall ahead of the team from „LinkedOut“.
After crossing the finish line, Robert Stanjek had to admit: „I am completely exhausted. I must have aged three years in the last few minutes. It could have been a little less exciting.“ The last section to the finish was also a real nail-biter for the Olympic sixth-placed in London: „When they come from behind with speed, it is incredibly difficult to defend. Therefore, we wanted to sail low to keep ourselves free, but the Imoca then slow down very strongly. In the end, we were able to sail our angles again. And we got into a real match race position, luffed to get ‚LinkedOut‘ into the bad position and turn the nose into the finish at the last moment. That worked out. I’m incredibly happy.“
Stanjek was particularly happy that there was still a race at the end. Although Offshore Team Germany would also have been the overall winner if the race had been abandoned due to calm, „it’s totally nice to finish the whole thing sailing. We wanted to prove that we can handle the pressure. That’s a great feeling“.
Before the start in Lorient, a victory was never in question for Robert Stanjek, but after the first leg it already became apparent that the disadvantage of not having foils would not be so great if the conditions were right. And they were right in the Mediterranean. „We are very happy with the overall performance, made a strong comeback on the leg to Alicante and had a nice win in Genoa. The winning point was that we put together a top team and also acted as a team. So the small disadvantage in the hardware hardly had an effect.“
Tensions also fell away from the team management after three exciting weeks: „We are incredibly proud, especially of how the team came together. Our plan to combine Olympic expertise with offshore and Imoca expertise worked out perfectly. This allowed us to compete as a non-foiler. Of course, the conditions helped us. We had prepared ourselves for these Mediterranean conditions and had optimised the sails especially for them,“ said team manager Jens Kuphal. „It is a great gift, a great joy to be able to experience this and to be able to compete with such top opponents. We want to continue on this path until the World Race next year.“
Intensive work is now underway to achieve this goal of competing in The Ocean Race 2022/23. „It’s great to see the position the team has put us in with this insane performance. It’s the best set-up for The Ocean Race. The stage is set for the continuation of the campaign under the claim ‚Made in Germany‘,“ says team CEO Michael End. „We have done everything we can to ensure that German companies jump at this event to join us on our journey around the world. Thanks go to the whole team on land and on the water and congratulations of course to Robert, Annie, Benjamin, Phillip, Felix and Ian who made it sail perfectly.“