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US-based sailing team wins around-the-world Ocean Race under ‘bizarre’ circumstances

The U.S.-based 11th Hour Racing Team won the around-the-world Ocean Race on Thursday, thanks to a jury that awarded the hobbled sloop the equivalent of a second-place finish in a leg it couldn’t complete because of a crash that wasn’t its fault.

The World Sailing International Jury awarded the Newport, Rhode Island, team four points for the final leg — enough for a three-point lead in the standings over second-place Team Holcim-PRB. 11th Hour Skipper Charlie Enright and his crew learned of the decision via satellite phone call a few hours before arriving with their patched-up boat in Genoa, Italy, for the traditional champagne-spraying trophy presentation.

“The circumstances of this win are a little bizarre,” navigator Simon Fisher said after the decision was announced on Thursday morning. “But the news coming in this morning was a huge relief, and it is slowly sinking in that we have won the race.”

The Ocean Race being damaged

This handout provided by The Ocean Race shows the damaged 11th Hour Racing team boat after being T-boned by Guyot environnement — Team Europe during the last leg of The Ocean Race around-the-world sailing competition near Aarhus, Denmark, Thursday, June 16, 2023.  (The Ocean Race via AP)

It’s the first victory for an American boat in The Ocean Race’s 50-year history. It was the third attempt for Enright, a Rhode Island native and Brown University alum who finished fifth in two previous tries.

“This race takes everything out of you — emotionally, mentally, and physically,” Enright said. “I’m incredibly proud of our whole team who have worked tirelessly for three years to get to this point. There have been highs, some incredible highs, but also lows that have knocked us all, but they were all worth it to hear this news today.”

11th Hour led by two points in the race standings when it left The Hague for Genoa on June 15 for the seventh and final leg of the six-month, 32,000-nautical mile (37,000-mile, 59,000-km) circumnavigation of the globe. Just 17 minutes after the start, the 60-foot foiling sloop Malama was T-boned by GUYOT environment – Team Europe, puncturing the Americans’ carbon-fiber hull.

Guyot skipper Benjamin Dutreux admitted the collision was his fault.

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Ocean Race in the crash

This handout provided by The Ocean Race shows the 11th Hour Racing team boat, left, being T-boned by Guyot environnement — Team Europe during the last leg of The Ocean Race around-the-world sailing competition near Aarhus, Denmark, Thursday, June 15, 2023.  (The Ocean Race via AP)

11th Hour protested to the international authorities while making a frantic effort to resume the race; although the team eventually conceded the leg, it was able to repair the gaping hole in its hull sufficiently to set sail off for Genoa.

The Holcim – PRB boat arrived in the Italian port on Tuesday in third place, about two hours behind the leg winners, for three points; a boat that fails to complete the leg receives zero points. But the jury found that the Americans were not at fault in the collision and were left in a significantly worse position.

11th Hour was compensated with second-place points, leaving it with 37 points in the final standings, three more than the Swiss.

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The Ocean Race in the dock

This handout provided by The Ocean Race shows the damaged 11th Hour Racing team boat as it returned to The Hague, Netherlands after being T-boned by Guyot environnement — Team Europe during the last leg of The Ocean Race around-the-world sailing competition near Aarhus, Denmark, Thursday, June 15, 2023.  (Felix Diemer/The Ocean Race via AP)

“It’s a standard procedure, which is to award average points based on 11th Hour’s performance in the previous legs of the race,” World Sailing International Jury Chairman Andrés Pérez said.

Swiss skipper Benjamin Schwartz accepted the outcome and congratulated the winners.

“They made a great race around the world and they deserve it,” he said. “Unfortunately we had to play the race out in front of the jury here, but it doesn’t remove anything from their win.”

Since leaving Alicante, Spain, in January, the boats in The Ocean Race’s IMOCA 60 Class division have overcome physical breakdowns, giant flotillas of seaweed and even encroaching killer whales. After the second leg, 11th Hour had to replace cracked racing foils that allow the boat itself to rise above the water and travel at high speeds; it also sounded its hazard alarm off the coast of Newfoundland after hitting what was presumed to be a whale, a collision that injured two crew members.

Orcas swimming

In a image from video provided by The Ocean Race, an orca moves along a rudder of the Team JAJO entry in The Ocean Race on Thursday, June 22, 2023, as the boat approached the Strait of Gibraltar. A pod of killer whales bumped one of the boats in an endurance sailing race, the latest encounter in what researchers say is a growing trend of sometimes-aggressive interactions with Iberian orcas. No one was injured.  (The Ocean Race via AP)

But nothing jeopardized their goal like the accident outside The Hague, when Guyot rammed its bowsprit into the American boat. 11th Hour arrived in Genoa on Thursday with the hole covered by a patch that obscured the team name that had been painted on the port side of the hull.

11th Hour Racing co-founder Wendy Schmidt said the victory is also a win for the organization’s goals of restoring ocean health. The race ties the sailing community to environmental concerns, with boats conducting science experiments en route and spreading the message of ocean health.

“There is no life on earth without a healthy ocean,” she said. “I am extraordinarily proud of the entire 11th Hour Racing Team and all they have overcome. They did more than sail around the world. They carried the message of sustainability, with the singular focus of restoring ocean health. Today, the real winner of this race is the ocean.”

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