Looking astern and ahead in the VO65 class

Cascais, Portugal hosts The Ocean Race Europe.

The Mirpuri Foundation Racing Team is in the driver’s seat heading into Leg 3, but the margin is razor thin.

While a focus of attention going into Leg 2 was on the battering that the fleet looked set to get going through the Gibraltar Strait, when the leg played out it was the last 24 hours that delivered the biggest challenge.

Light and fickle breezes that at times refused to align with the weather forecasts meant that teams were forced to trust their experience and gut feel. For some this returned them to the front of the fleet, for others quite the reverse.

So, with the fleet now preparing for another Mediterranean leg, this one from Alicante to Genoa, there has been time to reflect and consider what lies ahead. In the VO65 fleet Mirpuri Foundation Racing Team and AkzoNobel Ocean Racing are on equal points with Sailing Poland just one point behind. The pressure is still fully on.

With a short spell of time ashore to reflect on their performances so far and the prospects ahead, what do two of the most experienced skippers in the fleet think?

“I think we have several strengths, I think we sail the boat really well, I think we made the right tactical choices so far,” said Sailing Poland’s skipper Bouwe Bekking. “I made one mistake coming into the bay. I thought I had local knowledge, but it didn’t pan out like that. But I think in general we’ve done pretty good things, leading the fleet for a fair bit.

“Ideally I hope that we get quite a bit of breeze because then we have really good speed compared to some of the other teams. But we know what the medicine will be, it will be everything and even then, you still have to make the right choices. And I think in that sense, I’m confident that we can do well and end up on the podium. There’s even a fair chance that we can win because we’re only one point behind the leader.”

But sometimes experience can be counter-productive, at least initially as AkzoNobel’s skipper Chris Nicholson explained.

“We had a good debrief where we agreed that we have had some speed issues in the last week, which is kind of hard to own up to when you’ve clocked up about 40,000 miles and you find out you’re going slow. So, we’re trying to address them, but other than myself, we’re a youngish team and we’re working through the issues.

“Having said that, this next leg is going to be predominantly light air and quite tricky sailing and I think that suits us pretty well. We’ve got some good, smart guys and girls in that department and hopefully any speed deficit won’t play as much of a part in this leg.”

And when it comes to tactics for the second leg, Nicholson believes that the trick will be in knowing how and when to gamble.

“One of the things we’ve discussed at length is knowing when to apply some risk to try and make the gain and when to just hang in with your competition and be in the same piece of water for when that opportunity arises. So, from my side, I’ve got to try and manage that better than what I’ve done in the previous week.”

In the lead up to the event, the Mirpuri Foundation Sailing Team has been considered as the team to beat. Well practiced, well prepared and with a wardrobe of new sails it is easy to see why.

And yet their disastrous performance in the closing stages of Leg 1 provided a reminder that victory isn’t always that straightforward.

Winning Leg 2 delivered more of what their competitors had expected but the story so far has demonstrated that overall victory is far from certain.

“I suspect Mirpuri still feel a little vulnerable from the first leg results where, you know, they did 99 percent of everything right and then the weather goes really light and wobbly and helps to change the final outcome,” continued Nicholson.

“I think we saw a little bit of that coming into the finish here. But in the end, they’re well trained, they’re well polished, the boat’s immaculate and we’re not at that level. So, we’ve got a big job in front of us, but when judged on results we’re hanging in there.

“So, I’m excited about this next leg because it’s going to involve a lot more aspects than point and shoot and go fast. And that’s good because we’re not very good at that at the moment.”