At 14.42 o’clock the time had come. At the pontoon of GUYOT environnement – Team Europe the lines were cast off. From the boxes in the port of Alicante AC/DC was booming: With “Back in Black” the team of skipper Benjamin Dutreux and co-skipper Robert Stanjek left the sailing fans in the port of Alicante. After triumphing in The Ocean Race Europe a year and a half ago on the white “Einstein”, the team is now back on course with the former “Hugo Boss 6”, the night-black yacht – this time heading for the world adventure The Ocean Race. Shortly after the start, the black yacht did experience problems with the furling of the Code Zero. It took a few minutes to fix the problem. But when the fleet left the bay of Alicante the GUYOT environnement – Team Europe was back on speed, although already four miles behind the competing quartet.
Before setting sail, the crew of Dutreux, Stanjek, Annie Lush, Phillip Kasüske and onboard reporter Charles Drapeau had completed final preparations at the team base and pontoon. There were freshly made crepes in the morning, a fortifying lunch later, lots of hugs and words of encouragement. A few quick interview questions were answered, a photo of loved ones was quickly shrink-wrapped to find a place in the cockpit of the yacht. Detailed questions with tech team boss Thomas Cardrin and weather and routing expert Sébastien Simon were clarified.
The sailors’ parade revealed the different characters of the team. Benjamin Dutreux and Robert Stanjek enjoyed being able to present themselves in front of the crowd, Annie Lush looked focused, Phillip Kasüske with his broad cross was the rock, and Charles Drapeau could not hold back his tears.
But then the sailing team was on its own. Finally! After two exciting weeks in Alicante with many appointments, after two months of work for the tech team that began with the finish of the Route du Rhum.
“We are so happy to be on the water. It’s been a mountain of work over the past few weeks to get the yacht ready for The Ocean Race. Now the tech team has handed over the key to the sailing crew. We accept the responsibility, we are ready and confident,” said Benjamin Dutreux. According to the routing, he expects a five-and-a-half-day trip to Cabo Verde and sees some challenges right from the start of the race: “Up to Gibraltar, we’ll get a strong headwind. A lot can be decided there. We have to find the right balance. We have a strong boat, but it is also an Imoca. Something can always happen. And we have to bring the boat to Cabo Verde in the same shape as we took it over from the Tech Team here in Alicante.”
The start initially went well for the team. With good timing, it crossed the line at 4:10 pm close to the starting vessel. However, it was the newbuilds of Biotherm with Paul Meihat and Holcim of Kevin Escoffier that set the speed. After rounding the first two marks, Code Zero, which could not be furled cleanly, also slowed down the team of Dutreux and Stanjek. A large gap built up before the big headsail could develop its full power.
However, the first miles will not yet decide the outcome of this leg. Robert Stanjek is looking forward to the next 24 hours with anticipation: “It will be a matter of finding the right wind pressure in the shadow of the Iberian land mass – not going too much under land, but not going too much offshore either. On the approach to Gibraltar, the first test is already waiting. We will have strong wind from the front and current from behind. It is quite possible to break up a boat in this constellation. We have to act very intelligently.”
The strait between Europe and Africa itself then reveals further difficulties when it is expected to head out into the Atlantic on Tuesday night. “It’s going to be exciting in the Strait of Gibraltar. No one in the crew will be able to sleep. We only have a half moon and therefore little light, plus there will be a lot of traffic. You have to pay very close attention,” says Stanjek. He agrees with Benjamin Dutreux that there will be a fast trip to Cabo Verde afterwards. Tactically, it will be crucial to find the right moment after hitting the Atlantic to the west to point the bow south and then get well past the lee of the Canary Islands on the downwinder.
Fotocredit: Julius Osner / GUYOT environnement – Team Europe