It has been a difficult relationship between Cape Town and the Imoca teams in The Ocean Race 2023 on the sailing side. Two weeks ago, the St Helena high resisted the arrival of the crews, now in 24 hours, another calm zone is looming, making it difficult to say goodbye. Even the start in the wind shadow of Table Mountain became a rollercoaster on this Sunday at 14:15 local time. Shortly before the start signal, the wind dropped, came back shortly afterwards and lifted the yachts onto the foils with Paul Meilhat’s Team Biotherm in the leading position. But the high-speed mode was followed by a complete stop of the fleet drifting through the bay off Cape Town. Shortly after, the action was on again with strong gusts throwing the yachts on their sides. One hour after the start, all boats were drifting in the slack – with GUYOT environnement – Team Europe in the leading position, while Biotherm returned to port first due to a technical problem. 11th Hour Racing (Charlie Enright, USA) also had to stop with problems on the mainsail.
The teams left South Africa to set off on a new adventure. An adventure which had never been seen before in the 50-year history of the race. 12,750 nautical miles around the Antarctic continent without another stop from South Africa to Brazil: never before in its previous 13 editions has The Ocean Race challenged the athletes in this way. It is a stage where many milestones are passed. These are moments when sailors become legends.
The first major landmark of this monster leg is just a few nautical miles from the start. But with the passing of the Cape of Good Hope, the race of great hopes only begins. All skippers and crew members are very aware of the huge task. They approach the leg with a mixture of anticipation and humility, with ambition but also restraint, with the will to push the yacht hard but also always keeping safety in mind.
In GUYOT environnement – Team Europe, skipper Benjamin Dutreux and Annie Lush have returned to the team after their break for the second leg and form the quintet for the Southern Ocean on the black yacht with Robert Stanjek, Sébastien Simon and onboard reporter Charles Drapeau.
Benjamin Dutreux could hardly wait to get back into the race: “It was not easy on the last leg to follow the boat only on the tracker. Like the audience, I had very changing feelings – sometimes I was very confident, and then it drove me crazy again to look at the screen.” Fifth place was not the result they had hoped for, but the 32-year-old Dutreux could not blame the team: “The points on the tableau don’t look good, of course. But the team has always given everything. We are in a good development process. I am proud and looking forward to the leg. It will be a cool leg – for us and for the spectators. The competition is incredibly strong. The new boats are very impressive. There have been really strong yachts built in the past few months.”
For Sébastien Simon, the second leg of The Ocean Race was just the warm-up to really get going now: “For me, The Ocean Race only starts here in Cape Town. There are two possibilities to collect points on this leg, a lot can happen. We will experience a lot of wind and high waves. We will be far from any land mass, so the wind will hit us unhindered.” For the 32-year-old Frenchman, it’s also an opportunity to finish an unfinished job: “I’m happy to have this chance. I have bad memories of the Southern Ocean. Two years ago, I had to abandon my Vendée Globe three days away from the Cape of Good Hope after I hit an unknown object in the water and had to turn back to Cape Town. That’s why I’m looking forward to this leg.”
For Berlin-based Robert Stanjek, the next five weeks will bring entirely new experiences that need to be approached with care: “We are sailing through the most adverse weather conditions this planet has to offer. It’s all a bit tougher, bigger and of course colder. The standard of precautions is huge because of these sea areas. We’ve gone through training and briefings on safety issues – be it medical training, but also crisis management for major material break. We have rehearsed procedures and trained forces for each eventuality on board, and it’s an experienced crew. I’m the only newcomer to Southern Ocean with us.” Concerns must not be allowed to take over thoughts, however: “To some extent, you have to find a chamber where human concerns are locked away. There remains a risk, of course. A serious injury can already be complicated. But it is also a good adventure to go down there. Close your eyes and go through! It will be all right. It’s the queen leg, it’s the DNA of this race.”
A rock of the GUYOT environnement – Team Europe will be Annie Lush. The two-time circumnavigator is the only one to have mastered the Southern Ocean in team sailing, and also knows the interpersonal challenges that await the crew in such a confined space. She has meticulously packed the food bags over the past few days, making sure that there will always be a little treat for the tough days. The 42-year-old Brit made it short and sweet before setting off: “Let’s do it!”
With a view of Table Mountain, the crew of GUYOT environnement – Team Europe was bid farewell by their team, friends and family members from the port of Cape Town. Numerous spectators lined the pontoon at Ocean Live Park, giving the yacht an emotional and loud farewell. “It’s a great moment. That’s what we’re doing this for,” said French team manager Alice Potiron. And Jens Kuphal, the German team manager, added: “See you in Brazil!”