An American-flagged yacht has won The Ocean Race for the first time in the 50-year history of the grueling event.
“To be the first U.S. team lifting this trophy is an exceptional honor,” said Rhode Island native Charlie Enright, skipper of 11th Hour Racing Team.
After circumnavigating the globe on a route that stretched 32,000 nautical miles — including a stopover on Narragansett Bay in May — 11th Hour was confirmed winners June 29 as its 60-foot yacht, Malama, was en route to Genoa, Italy. The news was announced after the World Sailing International Jury awarded the team four points of redress based on its average results to date.
“It’s a standard procedure,” said Andres Perez, chairman of the jury.
The final leaderboard has 11th Hour three points clear of Team Holcim in second place. They are followed by Team Malizia, Biotherm and GUYOT.
“I’m absolutely ecstatic,” Enright said. “This race takes everything out of you; emotionally, mentally and physically. I’m incredibly proud of our whole team who have worked tirelessly for three years to get to this point.”
Sitting at the top of leaderboard during the penultimate stopover in the Netherlands, 11th Hour was sailing with the fleet in the two-lap inshore departure section when Malama was hit by GUYOT, leaving a hole in the aft section. Although there were no injuries on either crew, extensive damage to both boats required them to return to port in The Hague.
The American team was forced to retire from the final leg to Italy and requested redress from the jury. According to Mark Towill, chief executive of the team, 11th Hour was sailing on starboard tack between the third and fourth marks when GUYOT approached on port tack and “was required to give way.”
Despite calls from Enright, which was captured by dramatic footage onboard Malama, the European team didn’t alter course and collided into the side of the American boat. A request for redress is a process that allows a jury to award scoring points to a team if it determines the team has been prevented from racing due to no fault of its own.
The decision came down as the crew was delivering the yacht to Genoa for the grand finale. If they arrived by July, 11th Hour would be eligible for the in-port series, which it also was leading. If redress wasn’t awarded, Enright said winning the in-port series could be a small consolation. He called it “a race within a race.”
In the end, however, redress was awarded. The team, moreover, secured the double victory after winning the Italian in-port race, which clinched the series.
“Our shore crew worked night and day for three days straight to be able to get us back on the water,” Enright said. “To be able to compete, and (win the race in Genoa), we couldn’t ask for a better way to complete our lap of the planet and to show our thanks to everyone who has supported our campaign.”
The American team, which also comprised Newport resident Amory Ross, finished four points clear of Malizia in the in-port standings.
Holcim had made a last-ditch effort by protesting the conduct of 11th Hour during the collision with GUYOT, but the jury dismissed the grievance.
“We fully accept this outcome and congratulations to 11th Hour Racing Team for winning this race,” Holcim skipper Benjamin Schwartz said. “They made a great race around the world and they deserve it. Unfortunately, we had to play the race out in front of the jury here, but it doesn’t remove anything from their win.”
“Any sailor will tell you that they want to win races on the water and not in the jury room, and after winning three legs back-to-back, we felt exceptionally strong and confident going into the final leg,” Enright said. “We are pleased with the jury’s decision, although we wish we had had the chance to battle it out for this final leg on the water as Holcim have been exceptional competitors and pushed us all the way.”
GUYOT skipper Benjamin Dutreux, who was at the helm of the European boat when it collided with Malama, immediately took blame.
“It was impossible to avoid contact,” he said. “I take all responsibility. It’s our fault for sure … I’m very sorry about this. I really hope they will get back and win this race … We will try to help them all we can.”