Last Friday afternoon on 17th May at 14:27:15, Boris crossed the finish line of the Bermudes 1000 Race after having completed the 2000 nautical miles course in 7 days 21h 27min 15s. Malizia Yacht Club de Monaco was the 6th IMOCA to arrive in Brest, however, this ranking does not reflect Boris’ and Malizia’s outstanding sailing performance throughout the week at sea. Having been in 2nd or 3rd position for most of the time, a podium finish was within reach. Unfortunately, 24 hours prior to arrival, Malizia hit some floating object in the Bay of Biscay forcing Boris to slow down and do emergency repairs. No tactical navigation error on the part of the skipper, but simply bad luck on the final miles to the finish. Nevertheless, it was a very interesting, exciting and insightful race for Boris and Team Malizia. Moreover, the “OceanPack” sensor on board worked perfectly and recorded ocean CO2 data throughout the entire race. So, let’s rewind and recapitulate the race week.
“Top départ!” A day later than scheduled, on Thursday 9 May at 5pm, 17 skippers crossed the start line in the bay of Douarnenez and set off for their first IMOCA championship race of the year. In 10 to 15 knots of breeze from westerly directions, the IMOCA fleet started tacking out of the bay. A “top start” also for Boris who profited from a good position and ‘clean air’ being the most windward boat at the start.
Once out of the bay, the fleet headed northwest leaving Ouessant Traffic Separation Scheme to starboard. The first night and following day at sea offered fairly light and shifting southerly winds. Now, the aim was to find the best breeze and head for the Fastnet Rock waypoint as quickly as possible. Not on direct course, though. The south-easterly flow required frequent gybing and zigzagging across the English Channel and into the Celtic Sea. From this point onwards, Boris stuck with the front pack taking over the lead while approaching and entering the weather transition zone.
The transition zone meant a wind shift of 180° at the beginning of the second night and consequently slow close-hauled sailing. Overnight, a north-westerly breeze finally picked up and on the morning of the 11th May (Saturday), the Irish coast and Fastnet Rock came into sight. However, the wind remained very variable and during calm phases, Boris noticed the typical greenish coloured water following a biological activity called “Phytoplankton Bloom”. The “OceanPack” sensor on board measured a very low level of ocean CO2 in this navigation area off the Irish coast. In fact, phytoplankton take up carbon dioxide and produce oxygen.
As Boris rounds the legendary landmark at 11am in 3rd position, just behind Sébastien Simon and Samantha Davies, he writes: “Such a fascinating lighthouse! My 5th time or so. By far the best weather here ever. No wind ahead, but let’s try to sneak through somehow to a steady ocean breeze somewhere out there.”
In fact, the steady breeze came in the early morning of the 3rd day at sea (Sunday). More than 20 knots from the southeast offered great foiling conditions and high boat speeds on a stable beam reach course. Later that day, the wind increased to 30 knots. Sailing an IMOCA as fast as possible in these conditions is always very demanding, though. The irregular, lumpy sea state, causing the boat to jump around and hit the waves quite violently, made life below deck uncomfortable. Boris reports that “in the bunk, some of the impacts were even painful. Sitting you had to watch your back. These boats are so stiff!”
On top of that, the entire fleet is set in ‘racing mode’, so there is little margin for error. Boris has to decide constantly on the best sail configuration, hoist the respective sails, stack the unused ones, keep an eye on the other competitors and their boat speeds, particularly Initiatives Coeur and V and B, as he explains in one of his messages: “We went simultaneously from Code Zero to J2. I bagged and stacked the sail. From then on, I had a very symmetric sequence of reefing and unreefing up till now. At its strongest I would see 26 knots with the J3 and two reefs in the main.” So, on Sunday afternoon, Boris had already covered almost half of the way to the Azores waypoint turning mark. Since rounding of the Fastnet Rock he defended almost continuously second place.
The wind dropped and veered to the south early Monday morning forcing Boris and the front pack to sail slightly off course at a slower speed. Still, the log didn’t display boat speeds below 10 knots and during the day the fleet managed to cross the area of light wind.
However, the wind was about to increase dramatically again due to an approaching intense front the following night. Boris announced the expected conditions as follows: “The next big event this night will be the passage of a cold front. I try to be rested and have the boat organized for that. Sometimes it’s more brutal than expected. I am not sure about this one, 40 knots are possible. The associated wind shift to the right (from the southwest to the northwest) will be the moment for my tack to the Azores waypoint.”
That is exactly what happened. Boris managed to navigate nicely through the difficult conditions faced during the night. Samantha Davies on board Initiatives Coeur and Yannick Bestaven on board Maître Coq IV tacked slightly earlier than Boris and ended up rounding the virtual turning mark off the Azores Islands before Malizia II Yacht Club de Monaco got there.
Very soon, though, Boris was back in 2nd position. In ideal IMOCA sailing conditions experienced on the 5th day at sea (Tuesday) – 15 knots true wind speed, 125° true wind angle – and with the Code Zero, staysail and full main up, Malizia raced past her two competitors. “This speedy bit was really cool. Malizia seems to like that angle and condition. The Code Zero is a super sail!”, reported Boris happily on Tuesday afternoon.
The following 36 hours sailing on the direct route towards Brest offered fantastic conditions with a quite stable north-westerly flow and a fairly long swell, which Malizia handled nicely.
On Thursday around midday, Malizia approached the Bay of Biscay still in 2nd place less than 15 nautical miles behind the leader Sébastien Simon on board Arkéa Paprec. At that point, just 200 nautical miles from the finish line, Boris was forced to slow down, assess the situation and conduct quick repairs after having hit some object floating in the water. After calls with the shore crew and team founder Pierre Casiraghi, Boris decided that as Malizia had not suffered any structural damage, he would continue to Brest, but the boat speed had to be reduced in order to minimise any risk to Malizia. Now, at a slower speed, the 2nd place could not be held. Bad luck on the final straight.
At the same time, Boris took the opportunity to gain valuable experiences in view of upcoming offshore races and the Vendée Globe 2020, and learn how to deal with difficult and unexpected situations at sea. Upon his arrival in Brest he concluded:
“It was a great race and great training. I am really happy to have completed the race because I was able to accumulate miles for my Vendée Globe qualification. There have been ups and downs. Yesterday [Thursday, 16th May], I have hit something, which has caused small damage to the hull on the starboard side. Consequently, there was a small leak, but nothing too serious. Regarding a circumnavigation, you have to be prepared, mentally, to experience this kind of situation, too. So, that added a little spice to my race. I was forced to take out the tools, the composites… It is never uninteresting to tinker to learn. The team prepared the boat to a very high standard and I am really happy with the work they’ve put in. I know that the boat is going fast and I felt good in the rhythm as long as everything was fine. I really enjoyed navigating and there has been some great racing with a great fleet.”