Ulysse Nardin calls time on activities affecting ocean health

The Ocean Race official timing sponsor has partnered with eco-focused competitors, the 11th Hour Racing team, to promote clean oceans.

By Debbie Hathway

The five foiling IMOCA (International Monohull Open Class Association) 60s competing in The Ocean Race 2022-23 reached Cape Town on 12 February, marking the end of Leg 2 from Cabo Verde after starting in Alicante, Spain, in mid-January. During their stopover at the V&A Waterfront, I met with American-flagged 11th Hour Racing team CEO and cofounder Mark Towill to learn more about their experience.

It’s a mental battle as much as physical as the crews spend much of their time inside the cockpit designed initially for single-handed sailing, crunching numbers and managing data. Everybody must be able to navigate and drive the boat, trim the sails and go on the bow.

The single-hull racing machine measures under 20 metres, weighs nine tons, has a 95-foot mast, 2,000 metres of rigging, and eight sails. Wind speeds can reach 50 knots when it gets “fast and furious” with a weighted swinging keel and a pair of retractable underwater foils that dramatically boost performance. They fly. Literally.

The ultimate test of endurance and spirit

The 11th Hour Racing team has three or four sailors (the boat can take up to five) sharing five metres of living space during the ultimate test of true mettle as they sail 32,000 nautical miles (60,000km) around the world. Its carbon footprint is zero.

The race organisers, IMOCA designers (which include 11th Hour Racing team skipper Charlie Enright) and Swiss watch manufacturer Ulysse Nardin, the official timing partner for the race, share a common goal – responsible use and conservation of the world’s oceans. The brand, founded in 1846, created its iconic marine chronometer for early explorers relying on precise navigation and positioning on the sea. Patrick Pruniaux, Ulysse Nardin CEO, regards their additional role as the Time to Act partner of The Ocean Race as that of “guardians of time, keeping track of the sustainable actions undertaken so that we don’t lose purpose or direction… in delivering positive, timely results on the crucial environmental issues in keeping with the commitments set out in SDG14.”

Mark Towill, a seasoned sailor, says, “From an ocean health perspective, we carry scientific equipment onboard that’s constantly measuring different inputs, but we’re seeing more debris and less water life. It will be interesting to get the feedback from the next leg across the Southern Ocean, famous for big albatross birds and relatively unique wildlife, compared to the last time we were there a few years ago.”

The worst ocean pollution he has seen is in the Malacca Strait. “As you enter the South China Sea from the Indian Ocean, just before Singapore, it’s a narrow corridor – the most condensed area of shipping traffic worldwide. I felt like I could step out of the boat and walk to shore on the marine debris,” he says.

October 20, 2021.
11th Hour Racing Team’s Malāma goes offshore for training leading up to the start of the 2021 Transat Jacques Vabre. Photo by Amory Ross / 11th Hour Racing

Divers watch with sustainable materials

Meanwhile, the IMOCA 60 cockpit is designed to provide near-360-degree visibility, further enhanced by an advanced autopilot, navigation system, cameras, and marine mammal deterrence system. Drifting fishing nets are harder to detect, and there is disturbing footage of a sailor hanging over the side in a harness, cutting one loose from the keel. “We’ve had so many instances like that. You must stop the boat and go backwards to remove the net from being stuck around the keel,” says Towill.

Last year, Ulysse Nardin launched The Ocean Race Diver, the official watch for the event, featuring straps made from discarded fishing nets and reinforcing their quest for innovation and sustainable action.

Ulysse Nardin’s partnership with 11th Hour Racing strengthens the team’s position from a sustainability perspective. They share the same values, but Towill says it goes beyond sustainability. “It’s precision, detail, innovation, R&D, all the same things we focus on in our team. It seemed like a pretty natural fit.”

The race continues on 26 February with the start of Leg 3. The foiling IMOCA 60s are expected to take two months to cover double the distance (12,750 nm) thus far to reach the next stop at Itajai in Brazil. The 11th Hour Racing team is second on the leaderboard and winner of the pro-am race series held this week in Cape Town with the help of a very excited crew of local watch enthusiasts.

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