The latest race news from the race

The fastest rookie in the west

The fastest rookie in the west

Two days before the start, Charlie Enright, the 35-year-old American skipper of 11th Hour Racing (co-skipper Pascal Bidégorry), talks making his Transat Jacque Vabre debut, why there aren't more Americans here and why Charal et al better watch out. 

Have you done any big solo or double-handed races before?

No, (laughs) I’ve never done a double-handed oceanic crossing before. 

Your name keeps cropping up in people’s group of favourites for the race. Fast boat, fast skipper and wanting to push the boat to learn about it, how do you see it?

I think they’re fair, the boat’s still five years old, so we need to remember that. It definitley still has its strong conditions; when the boat’s going downwind I kind of rate it alongside even the new boats. But in reachier and more upwind points of sail, it’s not nearly as competitive. We will be pushing, certainly (laughs), that is our background, that is our origin. But at the same time, part of our greater mission is getting the boat to Brazil, collecting the data associated with that trip, doing a full crewed delivery back and seeing what it’s like crossing an ocean with six people on it.

Is there a bit of extra adrenaline because of that and the atmosphere in Le Havre? 

Definitely. This is one of the iconic French races and from being here this week you can see why. There’s a lot that goes into it, you look at the names on the trophies, they’re all extremely accomplished off shore sailors who’ve had success in this arena but also in the arena of the Ocean Race itself, so that definitely lights a little bit of extra fire.

Have your trained side-by-side with any of the other boats here?

Yes, we’ve been training here all summer and we did the (Défi) Azimut race in Lorient with two-thirds of the fleet. 

So, you’ve seen those points of sail, have you been been next to Charal in those conditions and they suddenly have 10 knots on you?

Yes, in the reaching conditions we can barely read Charal when they’re blasting across the horizon, but when we’re going dead downwind, like we were in the Azimut race, over the course of 400 miles we were in second and they were only three miles in front of us. 

What are your Ocean Race Plans?

We’re doing all this IMOCA sailing certainly with an eye on the Ocean Race, but at this stage nothing is confirmed. 

Any solo plans? 

The boat will most likely not sail the Vendée Globe. As you can tell from the involvement of the Ocean Race and the IMOCA class, there will be a crewed configuration as we move forward in the Ocean Race and potentially other races and that’s what we’re preparing for. 

So, you’re learning in the opposite direction to the duos here, they’re interested in the solo configuration and you’re learning how to configure it for a team?

Correct. For us, it’s a different platform, it’s a different configuartion, the short-handed nature of what we’re doing. So, we’re trying to figure things out before we make any big decisions (for a new boat design).

Are you surprised not to see others here doing the same thing as you?

That’s an interesting question. I’m not sure. We have the ability to and we feel it’s the best way to acquaint ourselves, so it’s an opportunity that we’re excited to capitalise on. 
Is there much talking and sharing on the pontoon with the other teams?

Honestly, most of the people on the pontoon speak French fluently, I don’t, so I kind of stay out of the chatter and the politics. 

Boris (Herrmann, Malizia II) chats…

Yes, and we’re right next to Boris and he’s a great guy and he has Ocean Race aspirations as well, so he’s certainly become a companion in this whole thing. 

Do you have any Vendée Globe aspirations personally? 

No. No. Maybe that changes when we get to Brazil, but at this time, no.

Why, because it doesn’t interest you or it would be too much to take on with the Ocean Race planning?

With the Ocean Race as the goal, we’ll need to be training on this platform during that time. And the plan would be to orientate the boat for crewed sailing, so in some ways it would be taking a step backwards. 

You’re still young…2024? 2028?

Thanks for saying that. I wouldn’t rule it out, which is certainly a different answer than I would have given years ago, because I am enjoying it thoroughly and it is definitely making me a better overally more well-rounded sailor, so it’s been very rewarding in that aspect. But it’s not on the cards today. 

Alex Thomson has built something specifically for solo sailing, are you going to build something specifically for the Ocean Race?

The goal would be to purpose build something for the Ocean Race, but until we have all the details in place, that’s a bit of a pipe dream. 

Why hasn’t there been more interest in the Transat Jacques Vabre and these races in America?

I think because a lot these races start, and in the cases of the ones that go around the world, end  in France. Sailing is such a part of mainstream French culture, whereas in the States you compete with bigger platforms for eyeballs. But if you’re into offshore sailing and short-handed offshore sailing there’s no better place in the world to do it than here. 

American sailing is a little bit more international grand prix day sailing than offshore. France is very fortunate to have the (Solitaire du) Figaro and that gateway programme, that pathway. In the States it’s not as clear, there’s not a script for how to get where you want to go. It seems like here in France you kind of start with the Figaro or Mini and then into the Class40, IMOCA and then the Ultim. It’s very linear. Until that infrastructure is in place in the States, it will be hard to grow into the French scene.

And you have some experience of arriving in Brazil…

We’ve sailed into Brazil two other times, coming from the other direction in the Ocean Race, last time didn’t go perfectly for us as we came via the Falkland Islands, but certainly finishin in Itajai on Alvimedicaand finishing on the podium as a bunch of youngsters in our first campaign was a very rewarding experience for our team.