Wide image of team Biotherm, Holcim, 11th Hour Racing and Guyot boats at sea during the Ocean Race 2023
© GUYOT environment - Team Europe | Sailing Energy

Ocean Race Leg 4 - 2023

By  Matthew Crowe  -  23 Apr 2024

The fourth leg of The Ocean Race had it all. Navigational and tactical challenges, extreme tests of the sailors’ physical endurance, intensely close and competitive racing all the way from Itajai in Brazil 5,000 miles north to Newport, Rhode Island in the USA – and a brutal sting in the tail, just two days from the finish line. Five IMOCA 60s started the leg but only three would finish.


© GUYOT environment - Team Europe | Sailing Energy

Paul Meilhat’s Biotherm had a storming start, leading the fleet away from Brazil in variable and squally east-northeasterly winds that had the teams working hard, trimming their sails constantly while also trying to figure out a complex navigational puzzle. The whole fleet adopted the same tactics, heading east-southeast – away from the finish line – to get offshore, into more constant and favourable winds, as fast as possible.


For four exhausting days they sailed north into relentlessly variable headwinds, tacking on every wind shift, zigzagging up through the narrow gap narrow gap between the coast of Brazil and an exclusion zone that prevents the fleet from sailing through the hazard-strewn oilfields offshore.


Team Holcim-PRB was leading the fleet, about 20 miles offshore in moderate conditions, when a swivel at the top of their forestay broke and the entire rig came crashing down. The crew was unharmed but it was a knock-out blow for the team who had dominated the first three legs of the race. With their mast smashed into several pieces, they set about making a jury rig from their outriggers and storm jib, and began sailing slowly back to Brazil.


It was a tough call for Holcim’s skipper, Kevin Escoffier. A spare mast was available in Lorient, France and could be shipped to Rio, so he could re-rig the boat and restart the leg, earning at least one point – but then he would definitely miss the start of Leg 5, the transatlantic crossing from Newport to Aarhus in Denmark. Instead, he decided to retire from Leg 4 and have both the mast and the boat shipped separately to Newport. In the best case scenario they’d only have a day or two to re-rig, repair and prepare the boat before the start of Leg 5, but there was at least a chance that they’d make it to the start line on time.


Meanwhile, the rest of the fleet still all within ten miles of each other. The wind remained light and shifty, requiring constant sail trimming by the crews as the sun blazed and the temperature soared in the cockpits of these boats, which are almost fully enclosed for safety and shelter in the wild and freezing conditions of the Southern Ocean. Up here in the tropics it felt like being under a magnifying glass, said Charlie Enright, the skipper of 11th Hour Racing. A two-hour stint in the plexiglass sail-trimming ‘bubble’ was almost too much to endure.


Easterly trade winds finally arrived after six days of slow and difficult conditions and the teams had a relatively easy passage through the Doldrums. None of the boats was becalmed for any length of time but they all had to deal with sudden and intensely violent tropical squalls.


Guyot were in second place and challenging for the lead when they broke one of the control lines that raises and lowers their foils, and soon fell 200 miles behind. Team Malizia led the fleet back into the northern hemisphere, crossing the equator just two minutes ahead of 11th Hour Racing Team with Biotherm three hours behind.


Free of the doldrums, Malizia and 11th Hour Racing pressed on at near record-breaking speed, covering 575 miles in 24 hours with Biotherm still close behind. But with the sea state becoming steadily rougher and a complex array of unsettled, unpredictable weather systems ahead, the route to Newport was anything but straightforward.


© GUYOT environment - Team Europe | Gauthier Lebec

Biotherm sailed into a large windless area that wasn’t predicted by any weather forecast and nobody expected. By the time they got the wind back, the two leaders had gained more than 100 miles and last-placed Guyot was only 60 miles behind. Meanwhile, the intense duel between 11th Hour Racing and Malizia just kept on going, swapping the lead at least 12 times and for thousands of miles within just a few miles of each other.


With 600 miles to go, the weather turned brutal and the fleet sailed into a southwesterly storm with winds gusting up to 50 knots against the Gulf Stream current, creating a violent sea state. ‘There is no question that these are boat-breaking conditions,’ said Amory Ross aboard 11th Hour Racing. ‘The longer you linger, the worse they get and the only way out is to run headfirst into a growing and confused sea state, typical of the northeast-flowing Gulf Stream. We’re slamming straight into breaking waves at 26 knots.’


Leg 4 claimed its second victim when Guyot lost their mast in the storm. In gale force winds at around 3am on 9 May, the boat fell off the crest of a big wave and its rig came crashing down. After dealing with the immediate danger by cutting loose the snapped mast and sails to avoid them putting a hole in the hull, the crew had to wait for wind and sea conditions to moderate before it was safe for them to go back on deck, construct a jury rig from the broken remnants and start limping towards the shore. Declining offers of rescue they eventually arrived in Halifax, Canada on 14 May, four and a half days later. At the time of writing they plan to transport the boat to Europe and then look at options for rejoining the race, if possible.


11th Hour Racing emerged from the storm with a 35-mile lead over Malizia. The last 80 miles to Newport were agonisingly slow for the leading pair, with a complex tactical challenge in very light winds and various exclusion zones to avoid. Sailing triumphantly into their own home port, 11th Hour Racing had a 10-mile lead and finished just over half an hour before their rivals – a hard-fought victory after an astonishingly close duel that played out over more than 4,000 miles.


‘This means so much to all of us," said Charlie Enright. ‘Timing is everything and to be able to get this result, on this leg, coming to our home base in Newport feels incredible. Everybody on the team played a role and did their part.


‘It feels so good to see all the boats on the water and the people here on shore to welcome us and share this with us. We're grateful for the support and happy we could get the win for everybody.’


Leg 4 was the game changer that levelled the leaderboard. Holcim is still the overall leader of The Ocean Race – for now, at least – despite being forced to retire from Leg 4. With a near perfect score of 19 points out of a possible 20 in the first three legs, they are still one point ahead of 11th Hour Racing and Malizia, who both have 18 points. Biotherm has 13 points but might just still manage to win, while Guyot has only two points thus far.


Leg 5 starts on 21 May after an in-port race in Newport.


Leg 1 Leg 2 Leg 3 Leg 4 Total
HOLCIM 5 5 9 0 19
11 HRT 4 3 6 5 18
MALIZ 3 2 9 4 18
BIOTH 2 4 4 3 13
GUYOT 1 1 0 0 2


Stage 1 Total
AMBR2 3 3

Did not Start

Did not finish



Given Redress


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