Since 1973, The Ocean Race has been the toughest test of a team in sport – and next edition, it’s about to become even tougher.
New boats – foiling and super-fast IMOCA 60s – will compete for The Ocean Race trophy, and sailors are already describing the new class as the most extreme ever seen in this round-the-world race.
Some five feet smaller than the VO65s that delivered such tantalisingly close racing last time out, this new class is definitely not about comfort, and with crews much smaller at just five plus OBR, there’s new meaning to the saying ‘life at the extreme’.
But the addition of the IMOCA 60s to sailing’s most brutal race isn’t just about speed – it’s also about combining two different sailing worlds, to create a much more sustainable eco-system for sailors to move between the most prestigious events in the sport.
The IMOCA 60 was recognised as an international class in 2001 and is best-known as the boat used for short-handed offshore races like the Vendée Globe – and a deep fleet will again depart Les Sables-d’Olonne in autumn 2020 as the solo offshore race begins another lap of the planet.
And now, for the first time, there is a sustainable pathway between the Vendée Globe – sailing’s premier solo race – and The Ocean Race – sport’s ultimate team challenge.
That means we could be seeing a much different type of sailor in the 2021-22 edition of The Ocean Race, with the onus being on all-rounders – and more crossover with the French sailing scene is likely.
France and The Ocean Race go back a long way. In fact, France had more entries in the first edition of the Race – then known as the Whitbread Round the World Race – than any other nation, with six boats departing Portsmouth on 8 September 1973.
The likes of Eric Tabarly, Alain Gabbay and Christine Gillou have all led campaigns in the Race, but only three iconic French skippers – Lionel Péan, Franck Cammas and Charles Caudrelier – have lifted the trophy. And now, there’s another generation eyeing its place on the start line.
Some are brand new. Meet Paul Meilhat, winner of the 2018 Route du Rhum, who has already admitted that he’s working hard to get his place in the 2021-22 edition – a moment he has said would be the fulfilment of his ‘life’s dream’.
Some have had a taste of life at the extreme – and already have the itch to return: meet Cécile Laguette, who raced onboard team AkzoNobel in 2017-18 after starting out in The Boatyard the edition previous.
And some have already made history – and are now eyeing their place on the Legends Wall. Jeremie Beyou, who earned a Race win at the first attempt as part of Dongfeng Race Team, and Sam Davies, in 2014-15 skipper of Team SCA, who led her crew to the first leg win by an all-female team in 25 years when they took first place into Lorient.
All are reared in French sailing philosophy – and now they’re here to show The Ocean Race what it means to have that little bit of je ne sais quoi.