The Ocean Race: Sailing Toward a Greener Future
“Nice job, guys! Yes! That was awesome,” 11th Hour Racing skipper Charlie Enright said as his team glided through the finish line of Leg 4 in Newport, Rhode Island. “It’s a dream come true.”
Winning a leg in The Ocean Race is an incredible accomplishment. This year, five teams are competing in the prestigious sailing race. The route circumnavigates the globe, covering 32,000 nautical miles (36,800+ miles).
The course has seven legs with stopovers in Alicante (Spain), Cabo Verde, Cape Town (South Africa), Newport (USA), Aarhus (Denmark), The Hague (The Netherlands), and Genoa (Italy). This year’s third leg from South Africa to Brazil was the lengthiest in the race’s 50-year history, 12,750 nautical miles (over 14,500 miles).
Each leg presents its own danger. In Leg 4 from Itajai, Brazil, and Newport, Rhode Island, two teams–Team GUYOT-environnement and Team Holcim-PRB–lost their masts in the rough seas on their way to Newport. Both teams had to forfeit the leg to receive repairs. The USS Constitution Museum compared the situation to having a tree fall on your house.
Moreover, the teams helm some of the stormiest seas. A hallmark of the expedition includes a portion of the Southern Ocean, introducing sailors to the tumultuous winds of the Roaring Forties and Furious Fifties. One of the landmarks crews float by is the world’s most dangerous ship passage, Cape Horn, located off the coast of Chile. Sailing the Cape is so treacherous that more people have climbed Mount Everest than sailed Cape Horn.
The job is challenging without the omnipresent threat onboard. The boats are petite at 60 feet. The crew works 24/7, and there is no place to shower. Because of weight restrictions, freeze-dried food dominates the appetite aboard. If the sailors get lucky, they will get two to four hours of sleep. There is no climate control, as the boats are wet and cold constantly. Privacy is not a given.
Yet crews manage with these conditions, not for days but weeks continually. The voyage from Brazil took 11th Hour Racing 17 days to reach their home base of Newport.
The devotion required to endure the fiercest storms and the most sinister moments is unmatched.
Nevertheless, the IMOCAs are a technological wonder. The boats come equipped with foils, a mechanism that allows the vessel to gain speed. These foils lift the yacht out of the water. When foiling, ships can reach 35 knots (roughly 40 miles per hour). With the speeds, the teams capitalized on records for distance sailed in one day during the current leg to Denmark. Team Malizia swiped the accomplishment from Team Holcim-PRB, set a day prior. The distance? 641.13 nautical miles (737.8 miles).
I admire the courage displayed as the five crews vie for a place in history. I couldn’t step on a sailboat for five minutes, forget a month. The devotion required to endure the fiercest storms and the most sinister moments is unmatched. They do not shy away from danger, but face it. The Ocean Race demonstrates that collaboration is essential to society. For most of us, it is not life or death. Nonetheless, The Ocean Race reminds us what is the best of humanity.
The Ocean Race also lends the vital message to never give up. Each team bore their fair share of mishaps in the race so far. 11th Hour Racing’s sail tore apart in Leg 3. Biotherm saw their shroud break just a few days ago. And the two heartbreaking dismastings in Leg 4. Regardless, each calamity met with resistance. The will to win remained strong.
And let’s not forget, this race has zero money attached to winning. Only pride in finishing ‘The Everest of Sailing.’
While the race has moved on from Newport, Enright’s 11th Hour Racing continued to make waves as the team finished first in Aarhus, Denmark. The team is now the sole leader on the leaderboard with 28 points, with Team Holcim-PRB one point behind them. Team Malizia is in third place with 24 points.
The race will stop over in The Hague next, with the finale in Genoa in sight by the end of June.
The Ocean Race’s Environmental Advocacy
However, Genoa is not the only finish line teams hope to cross victoriously.
The race is a staunch supporter of environmental causes, in particular ocean rights. It is apparent just by the team names and slogans. For example, the slogan for Team Malizia is “a race we must win,” referring to the ever-pending climate doom upon humanity.
Each stopover has a village dedicated to environmental matters. In Newport, the Environmental Club presented a drawing by Livvy Avignon ’26 in the Exploration Zone that depicted the increasing peril of the plastic crisis. In the exploration zone, several organizations shared their work with over 100,000 guests.
Climate change will not hinder its assault, we must take action.
Before the start, The Ocean Race pledged to be the first sporting event to go climate-positive. I could notice these promises in place. Employees stood by garbage bins directing waste with an emphasis on composting. Water filling stations were ubiquitous in the park. The race even set up an exhibit about the risks of climate change to the marine ecosystem.
Furthermore, teams accumulate data about the environment while sailing around the world. Each team has a responsibility to gather information.
11th Hour Racing and Team Malizia are in charge of gauging levels of carbon dioxide, oxygen, salinity, and temperature to assist scientists in further understanding the impact each has on climate change.
GUYOT environment – Team Europe and Holcim – PRB take frequent water samples to check microplastics in the ocean. And Biotherm has an onboard microscope that takes images of ocean biodiversity.
The Ocean Race’s mission to promote sustainability is necessary, especially as the United Nations released yet another grim outlook on climate change, saying the world will likely reach 1.5°C warming by 2027.
Climate change will not hinder its assault, we must take action.
The Ocean Race has an answer. In September, they plan to share an action plan with the United Nations, the Universal Declaration of Ocean Rights.
Action is urgently needed to keep our seas from becoming death traps. Humans cannot survive without the ocean. Our survival hinges on the health of our waters. A breath we take every other second comes from the ocean, yet tremendous ecosystems are on the cusp of collapse due to human greed. The human desire to meander further into industrialization.
While oil companies report record profits, coral reefs sit damaged beyond repair. By 2100, estimates say there will be no reefs left. Why? With the excess carbon dioxide emitted into our atmosphere, the ocean absorbs 93 percent of the heat. Coral reefs cannot live under stress.
We cannot either. We must shake away the chains of greed.
It is imperative that we recognize ocean rights. We must utilize diplomacy to solve this problem. We cannot cower to our nations. This must be a global effort.
These five teams live and breathe the ocean for six months. They know the heart-wrenching destruction better than anyone. In a video launching their campaign, Team Malizia Skipper Boris Herrmann said, “This is my job, my passion, but of course, I depend on the ocean.” We all do.
These sailors are up to the task, but are governments ready for the challenge? Are we?
Update: As of June 29, 11th Hour Racing Team won The Ocean Race with 37 points, three ahead of second-place Team Holcim-PRB. More information about the race can be found at this link.