Team Malizia around Boris Herrmann masters the first stage

Aon the “highway”. Gibraltar there are several fast lanes. “Whoever finds the fastest way south in the Mediterranean also wins the first stage,” Rosalin Kuiper from the “Malizia” team is certain shortly before the start of the Ocean Race. A few nautical miles to the west or east could be crucial.

On Sunday afternoon, the 27-year-old ocean sailor from the Netherlands took the ascent on the very “highway” she named, standing on deck and waving to the sounds of Queen’s “Don’t stop me now”. Out of the port of Alicante in glorious sunshine and past around 50,000 spectators lining the beach and promenade.

But the party is over quickly – for Kuiper, her crew and the four other teams on their 18-metre high-tech yachts. Shortly after the bay of Alicante, the boats of the Imoca class fly over the water on their wing-like foils. Every wave that hits the yacht shakes the crew. On the first two days of the regatta, wind speeds of well over 60 kilometers per hour are not uncommon.

craziness in the team

The glances at the tracker, weather data and autopilot mean that tactics and course are regularly discussed. Only the very hardy can think of sleep on this first night on the high seas. The participants quickly learn what it means to be part of one of the toughest sailing races in the world.

It is less than 2000 nautical miles to the first stage destination on Cape Verde. Just a fraction of the 32,000 nautical miles (almost 60,000 kilometers) long regatta around the world. The short “pit stop” on the archipelago in the Atlantic must be completed without major repairs or replenishing provisions, next Wednesday we will continue towards Cape Town.

Significant view on the high seas: Skipper Boris Herrmann

Significant view on the high seas: Skipper Boris Herrmann

Image: Antoine Auriol | Team Malizia

“Malizia” skipper Boris Herrman reaches into his psychological bag of tricks right from the start of the regatta: for the predicted 22-day journey to Cape Town, his crew allegedly only packed food for 18 days. To save weight and make the boat a few knots faster? “I said last week that there are some positive crazy people in the other teams who only know how to go flat out. Apparently we have this kind of craziness in our team as well,” says the man from Hamburg before the start.

Herrmann has declared overall victory as the goal for “Malizia”, ​​among other things he has for the Ocean Race have a new yacht built with a significantly rounder hull than the boats of the competition. At the start of the second day of the regatta, “Malizia” is in the lead – but all the competition follows within a nautical mile.

Astronaut tips

The role of the top favorites in the Ocean Race with Charlie Enright and Kevin Escoffier is filled by others – even if Paul Meilhat and his “Biotherm” crew set the first exclamation point of the regatta by winning the start in Alicante. But the American Enright is taking part in the Ocean Race for the third time. With his “Vestas 11th Hour Racing Team” put together early on, he had most of the time to prepare intensively for the regatta.

The “Vestas” yacht was the only participating boat that was designed and built exclusively for team use in the Ocean Race. It therefore impresses with a number of technical and architectural features which, according to experts, could be decisive in the end. The 38-year-old Enright also sought advice from a former astronaut, Nicole Stott. Both spoke about the comparable mental and physical stress of a mission in space with the exhausting competition on the seven seas.

Frenchman Escoffier, who leads the Swiss-flagged “Holcim” team, has already won the Ocean Race together with the Chinese “Dongfeng” team in 2018. The 42-year-old father is one of those sailors who has already had the most dramatic experiences on the high seas: At the last Vendée Globe – a solo regatta that is sailed non-stop around the world – Escoffier’s yacht broke south of Africa in heavy seas in the Center apart when she hit a wave at the wrong angle at high speed.

Within a very short time, Escoffier had to send off a distress signal, put on his survival suit and climb into the life raft. After three minutes his boat sank. Escoffier drifted helplessly at sea for hours until he was found by Jean Le Cam. The pictures of the person who had just been rescued, who, completely exhausted, sent a sign of life to his family on the yacht of the competitor, who was also completely exhausted from the search, went around the world. A memory that the Escoffier, who was relaxing on his e-cigarette shortly before the start in Alicante, prefers not to be asked about.

“Kevin is a character who just shrugs off such a dramatic event. He acts with incredible foresight and doesn’t think much about past things,” says Susann Beucke about Escoffier. The woman from Kiel is expected to strengthen the “Holcim” crew from the second leg and master the difficult tasks to Cape Town and through the Southern Ocean in her first major offshore regatta.

She doesn’t let anything get on her skipper. “I feel even safer with Kevin on the boat. Simply because he overcame this emergency and survived – which was almost impossible. I would trust him blindly in a similar situation.”

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