In the middle of the Cape Verdean night, at 1:01 a.m. local time (3:01 a.m. French time), Kevin Escoffier, Abby Ehler, Sam Goodchild, Tom Laperche and Julien Champolion (onboard reporter) crossed the finish line.
Together, they won the first leg of The Ocean Race, a fully-crewed round-the-world race with stopovers. This first place is a reward for the great job of the entire Holcim-PRB team has done. Together they had been preparing for this major event with great commitment for several months.
This leg between Alicante and Mindelo on the island of Sao Vincente (1,900 miles) was a salty start for the five IMOCA boats competing in The Ocean Race! During the first part of the race, which was sailed close-hauled to exit the Mediterranean, Kevin and his team encountered light winds before facing a gusty flow of up to 50 knots as they approached Gibraltar. Intense sailing conditions that some on board have totally discovered, like Tom Laperche.
“In the Mediterranean Sea, we didn’t have much wind at the beginning, then we managed to sail upwind with strong wind and I think I have never had so much wind in my life! There were 40 or even 50 knots of wind for a long time, upwind… These are big boats, very safe, but we had to be careful not to break anything” says Tom, who was sailing for the first time in a race aboard an IMOCA.
Managing these extreme conditions during the race allowed Kevin Escoffier to check both the good condition of the boat and the cohesion within the team he chose to start this round the world race with.
“It was our first time sailing together and I don’t regret the choices I made. They are all great and they are the ones who went for the victory” he explained enthusiastically at the finish. “For this first time sailing together, everything went very well. Everyone did a great job” said a smiling Abby Ehler. For Sam Goodchild, too, the atmosphere in the team was a real performance booster. “There were a lot of new things for all of us on this leg from Alicante to Mindelo, including sailing together! It was a great new experience. We managed to work well together. The atmosphere on board is extremely constructive thanks to Kevin. Everyone listens, focuses and collaborates.”
The second part of the race in the Atlantic was an opportunity to ensure exceptional average speeds and to keep all the other boats distant. Since the moment they started to lead the fleet before Gibraltar, the crew of Holcim-PRB never gave up until the arrival tonight in the islands of the archipelago.
For Kevin Escoffier, winner of The Ocean Race, this is the first major victory aboard his monohull launched last May. The sailor from Saint Malo was therefore extremely happy at the finish! If this magnificent start obviously is nothing compared to what awaits the men and women of Holcim-PRB over the next six months of racing, it reassured and validated a set of technical and human choices made to perform around the world, whether now, with a crew, during The Ocean Race or later, single-handed during the Vendée Globe.
“The boat is great. Both upwind and downwind, reaching, we have always been fast. It’s a first victory on this new boat after a very nice single-handed Rhum! It doesn’t mean anything about the final result, there’s still a lot of work to be done, but it rewards all the hard work of the team. I’m also happy for our partners, for Holcim, for PRB! I am very happy to start like this. I don’t want the others to think that they can catch up with us at certain speeds. When the others speed up, we speeded up twice as much to show that we still had some speed left! It was our first time sailing together, and I don’t regret the choices I made. They are all great and they are the ones who went for the victory”.
11th Hour Racing Team finished 2nd and Team Malizia should climb on the third step of the podium.
The crew of Holcim-PRB will have little time to rest in Cape Verde. This stopover is quite special since the sailors aren’t allowed to get any assistance from their technical team to prepare the boat for the second leg between Mindelo and Cape Town in South Africa. The 4,600-mile race will kick off next Wednesday. During each leg, Kevin Escoffier has planned to rotate his team to preserve the sailors. At the start of Cape Verde, the British Abby Ehler will leave her place to the German Susann Beucke. Kevin Escoffier, Tom Laperche and Sam Goodchild will continue on for this second meeting. As for the on-board reporter, Julien Champolion will leave his place to the New Zealander Georgia Schofield.
A few words from the sailors
Kevin Escoffier: “The most difficult thing on this first leg was to keep this pace while trying to preserve the boat. It may seem completely paradoxical, but it is, otherwise we would not be racing. Finding the way, the rhythm that allows you to keep high average speeds while telling yourself that the boat will last for a long time… During the big gale in Gibraltar, we did our best to manage the boat. The crew was great! Not one word was too much. We were always talking and discussing. We already had 45 knots of wind when I was adjusting the headsail and Sam shouted at me “Be careful, there are reefs to come!”.
Abby Ehler: “This is an exciting victory ! It’s a great result for the team on board but also for those who did the work behind the scenes, the whole shore team! The boat is a great machine.”
Tom Laperche: “It’s a very nice first leg. Honnestly, I’m happy that we’re starting this race like this. I’ve never raced in an IMOCA race before. I’m grateful to win like this. There are some great people, some good crews on all the boats. I always knew that Holcim-PRB was a great boat. We had speed, the atmosphere was very good on board and that’s essential! It was even going up in terms of synergy. It’s going in the right direction! I can’t wait to get going again. The goal is to win more, we’ll see! “
Sam Goodchild: “It was important for us to do well on this first leg. We have a lot of things to optimize, we know that there is a lot of potential with the boat, with the team. It’s very exciting for the future. There are still many things to come, six legs, some of which count double. One word to describe this leg: intense! The hardest part was the passage to Gibraltar with 50 knots of wind upwind! We tore a sail at that moment because the wind was not stable. We had to repair it. It was a difficult moment but we came through it well.”