A Weekend with 11th Hour Racing and The Ocean Race

SpinSheet at the Newport Stopover 2023 for the Ocean Race

You’ve seen this scene before in many a sailing movie: a harbor full of boats of all stripes, from luxury power yachts to dinghies and paddleboards, all vying for a glimpse of the sailors that are about to embark on some long-distance sailboat race or record-breaking attempt. Narragansett Bay looked like a movie for the start of the fifth leg of The Ocean Race, and SpinSheet was lucky enough to receive an invitation from Musto and 11th Hour Racing for a front row seat.

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The 11th Hour Racing team at the 2023 Ocean Race stopover in Newport, Rhode Island, on Naragansett Bay. Photo by Nicholaus Bailey

The Ocean Race is a crewed, multi-leg round-the-world race, and the 2022-23 rendition began in Alicante, Spain in January. Since then, the teams have sailed south to Cabo Verde and then Cape Town, followed by a grueling leg through the Southern Ocean all the way to Itajaí, Brazil, then back north to Newport, Rhode Island. There are five boats in the IMOCA 60 class, 60-foot foiling monohulls known for their use in races like the Vendée Globe. 11th Hour Racing is the only American team.

11th Hour Racing enjoyed hometown support during the stopover in Newport, with crowds coming out to watch their first-place finish in the fourth leg after a battering experience crossing the Gulf Stream. Newport locals and visitors continued to pour into Ocean Live Park, the race village set up at Fort Adams State Park and Sail Newport, to see the boats up close in the days leading up to the start of leg 5.

Musto is the world’s number one performance sailing brand and sponsor of 11th Hour Racing Team. Photo by Harry KH/ 11th Hour Racing Team

Technical difficulties and breakages

With the top three IMOCAs tightly packed on the leaderboard and double points up for grabs from Newport to Aarhus, Denmark, Charlie Enright, skipper of 11th Hour Racing, said that “Early on we experienced a lot of technical difficulties and we weren’t able to race the boat in the way that we know how and the way that we wanted for the first couple of legs, but this last leg [to Newport] was a step in the right direction, and hopefully we can keep pushing to the finish.”

Technical difficulties and breakages are a major consideration on IMOCAs. Due to the extreme forces exerted on the foiling boats, “You can’t always push the boat to 100 percent, you have to make compromises,” according to 11th Hour trimmer Justine Mettraux.

Two IMOCAs were dismasted in leg 4—GUYOT environnement - Team Europe and Holcim-PRB—making that message even more poignant.

“It was difficult to hear,” Enright said of the dismastings, “As competitors that’s certainly not the way that we wanted to see the gap [in points] close. Even the best prepared teams can go through these things, and I’m sure, given the caliber of sailors on these boats, that it has nothing to do with negligence. Sometimes it’s bad luck, sometimes it’s equipment failure, but the important thing is obviously the safety of the crew.”

Amory Ross at the press conference for the 11th Hour Racing Team in Newport. Photo by Nicholaus Bailey

Why do they keep coming back?

Given the grueling nature of this race and the risks incurred by the sailors, it can be perplexing why sailors like Simon Fisher, 11th Hour’s navigator and five-time Ocean Race veteran, keep coming back.

“I guess I’m a glutton for punishment,” Fisher said. “No, this race is fantastic. People talk about how it gets in your blood and it’s really hard to get out, and that’s certainly been the case for me. The great thing about this race is it’s always a new challenge, there’s always something to learn, as well as the fantastic sailing you get to do and getting to work with some really amazing people.”

Musto is the world’s number one performance sailing brand and sponsor of 11th Hour Racing Team. Photo by Harry KH/ 11th Hour Racing Team

Regarding how this Ocean Race is different, he shrugged, “They’re all kind of different. Everyone anticipated this race to be really spread out and much more uneven in points, but then here we are, everyone is pretty much tied up. It’s exceeded everyone’s expectations with how close we all are on the water. I’ve been really surprised by how much time we’ve spent in sight of other boats.”

Amory Ross, 11th Hour’s onboard reporter, has an entirely different viewpoint of the race. Although he’s been aboard for every leg, he is prohibited from assisting in the actual racing or strategy, which he says can be difficult: “The hardest thing is sitting there and knowing I can’t help. Not only can I not help, sometimes I find myself in the way. I do occasionally feel like a little bit of dead weight, but at the end of the day it’s the job and there are rules we have to follow, so I know they don’t think I’m lazy… The hardest times are when things aren’t going so well and there are problems, and I have to just kind of stand there and watch when I want to aid my team. But I just put that energy into my camera.”

The in-port sailing race and Ocean Race restart in Newport, Rhode Island. Photo by Nicholaus Bailey

Missions beyond the race

Witnessing the start and meeting these sailors was a real treat, not only because of the caliber of the boats and teams, but also because of their missions beyond the race itself. Skipper Charlie Enright spoke about women in sailing and the importance of ensuring that women are allowed access into the beginning stages of their sailing careers, so that more women can reach the top.

While The Ocean Race has a rule stating that there must be at least one woman aboard each boat for each leg, Enright hopes that the rule becomes unnecessary in the future, and that there will be a woman skipper on an Ocean Race boat one say soon.

“If you look up here, this is the bottom of the funnel,” Enright said at the Skipper’s Press Conference in Newport. “If we’re going to shake out what we need to in terms of gender equity on this stage, it’s about filling the funnel at the top and creating more opportunity on the base level so that people will have the opportunity to sit here amongst us.”

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Charlie Enright speaks at the sailboat racing team press conference in Newport May 19. Photo by Nicholaus Bailey

All of the teams, as well as The Ocean Race itself, also promote strong environmental messages. Ocean Live Park, the stopover site in Newport, featured multiple interactive exhibits about ocean health, with topics ranging from marine mammals to plastic reduction. 11th Hour Racing collects environmental data while they race, particularly water samples with eDNA—environmental DNA that are sent to research scientists who can use them to determine what types of organisms have passed through the areas they raced through to better understand migration patterns and other behavior.

The victorious team in late June in team gear. Musto is the world’s number one performance sailing brand and sponsor of 11th Hour Racing Team. Photo by Harry KH/ 11th Hour Racing Team

11th Hour’s IMOCA also has several types of cameras aboard, including thermal imaging cameras, that can help them detect large marine mammals like whales to avoid collisions that may harm both the animal and the boat. When they do spot animals like whales, the racers use drones and onboard cameras to capture images that help scientists identify the species and sometimes even the individual, as well as to warn other traffic in the area.

The Ocean Race and teams like 11th Hour have proven themselves to be role models in the sport, in both social issues and sportsmanship. If you don’t already follow The Ocean Race, definitely check out theoceanrace.com and 11thhourracingteam.org to read the latest updates.

~By Kelsey Bonham for SpinSheet

Musto is the world’s number one performance sailing brand and sponsor of 11th Hour Racing Team

Find more about the team's big collision and their victory