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.

Malizia Yacht Club de Monaco at the start of the Bermudes 1000 Race. Perfect position! Photo credit: Eliza Chohadzhieva

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.

Beautiful sunset ahead! Magic atmosphere a few hours into the race, sailing off the coast of Brittany. Photo credit: Boris Herrmann.

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.

Malizia passing the transition zone with very light, shifty winds (blue coloured areas). Photo: Screenshot Bermudes 1000 Race Tracker.
The second fantastic sunset at sea and calm conditions on the way to the Fastnet Rock. Photo credit: Boris Herrmann.

 

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.

 

The results: Notice the blue dots off the Irish coast in the top left map representing a low level of ocean CO2. The other maps display measured sea surface temperature (top right), sea surface salinity (below) and Malizia’s speed in knots (left).

 

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.

Greenish coloured water following phytoplankton bloom. Photo credit: Boris Herrmann
Irish coastline appearing on starboard. Photo credit: Boris Herrmann.

The Fastnet Rock and lighthouse well in sight! Photo credit: David Branigan / Oceansport
Good position in the race, good weather, happy skipper! Photo credit: Boris Herrmann

 

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!”

Finally some steady breeze! Position update May 12, 03a.m. Photo: Screenshot Bermudes 1000 Race Tracker.

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:

Sunday afternoon (2p.m.): Half way between the Fastnet and the Azores waypoint. Photo: Screenshot Bermudes 1000 Race Tracker

“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.

Fast sailing on a beam reach towards the Azores. Boat speed constantly above 20 knots! Photo credit: Boris Herrmann

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.

A satellite image showing the rainfall intensity associated with the distinctive cold front. Photo credit: Boris Herrmann

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.”

May 13, 6p.m.: The cold front moving east as the IMOCA fleet heads south-west. A tense moment of the race. Photo: Screenshot Bermudes 1000 Race Tracker

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.

Initiatives Coeur abeam! Drag race in the middle of the Atlantic. Photo credit: Boris Herrmann

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.

Position update May 15, 3p.m. On the fastest route back to Brest. Photo: Screenshot Bermudes 1000 Race Tracker
Monitoring the boat’s progress while having a little snack at the nav station. Photo credit: Boris Herrmann

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.

May 17, 07a.m. Malizia’s track (grey wobbly line) shows the moment when Boris is forced to slow down and conduct repairs at sea some 200nm SW of Brest. Photo: Screenshot Bermudes 1000 Race Tracker

 

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.

Boris’ arrival in Brest last Friday afternoon. Photo credit: François van Malleghem
Happy to have completed a challenging race! Photo credit: Boris Herrmann

 

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.

First interviews after the race. Photo credit: François Van Malleghem

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.”

 

 

Photo credit: Eliza Chohadzhieva

Yannick Kethers

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