top of page

‘A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor’

 A look back at our 2023 season.

2023 has been a rollercoaster of a year, for Ollie and the team, with a mix of smooth and rough patches, which have boosted Ollie’s confidence and tested his resilience in equal measure, but overall, made him a better sailor. 

The year started extremely well for the team. We were proud and delighted to welcome two new sponsors onboard; Portier Yachts, the leading full-service yacht shipyard in Switzerland, and HQAM, as asset management firm who have launched a sustainability fund to support the campaign. In addition, our long term partner, Burgerstein Vitamine, provider of micronutrients and dietary supplements, increased their commitment, with us after a very successful first year of sponsorship. 

In May 2023 we established ‘Club100’, a members group of private individuals who are hugely engaged with and directly supporting our campaign. We are thrilled to have welcomed 56 members, who have quite literally, #JoinedUsOnOurJourney and “Sailed on board” with us all year, with their names on our mast!  

Two Third-Place Finishes 

After a substantial refit in spring of 2023, and fresh out of the boatyard in June, the team moved from France to the South coast of the UK for four weeks to prepare and train for the famous Royal Ocean Racing Club “Rolex Fastnet race” in which Ollie and co-skipper David Le Droit secured a very respectable 3rd place finish amongst the non-foiling IMOCAs.  Overall, they were 19th in class, after racing 635 miles against 35 other IMOCA duo’s in just over two days.  But as an older non-foiling race yacht, the team knows it can’t compete with the brand-new flying-foilers, so it makes sense to benchmark ourselves against the older generation similarly designed dagger-board boats. 

In September, Ollie was back on the water, this time sailing with Swiss co-skipper Nils Palmieri in the Défi Azimut Challenge.  Ollie finished 21st, and again was the 3rd fastest non-foiling IMOCA to complete the 48-Hour Offshore Race. This fantastic result was achieved despite tough sailing conditions and an electrical blackout which meant navigating using paper-charts and traditional compass, whilst observing the clouds for the weather forecast! 

A Year of Learning 

In the IMOCA globe series 2023, the year is configured for mainly double handed sailing. The three races in which Ollie competed were all double-handed. This platform provided the opportunity to test the boat and learn from others experience, ahead of the single handed 2024 season culminating in the Vendée Globe. To maximise the time and training, the co-skippers were chosen with care. 

David le Droit, who co-skippered in the Rolex Fastnet Race, is also the Oliver Heer Ocean Racing boat captain and extremely knowledgeable about the technical aspects of the yacht. Experiencing the sailing environment first-hand will not only help him to better understand how to optimise the boat for Ollie, but give David the insights into what is required by the skipper and team while racing at sea. 

For the Défi Azimut and Transat Jacques Vabre, we welcomed fellow Swiss skipper Nils Palmieri, who is the previous winner of the Double-Handed Transat, 6th in Solitaire du Figaro (the highest ever place for a non-French sailor) and recipient of Swiss Sailor of the Year.   

The Solitaire du Figaro is an offshore race, sailed single-handedly without access to weather forecast data once the race has started. From this, Nils has developed an incredible ability to read the sky, predicting windshifts accurately and to sail using his senses, not sensors. For Ollie, the opportunity to partner with Nils allowed him to develop these skills; which are invaluable in case of any systems failure as evidenced in Défi Azimut, when the pair overtook several boats whilst suffering from an electrical black out! 

Trouble in the Transat Jaques Vabre 

The Transat Jacques Vabre, which was due to start at the end of October, was the double-handed transatlantic race from Le Havre, France to Martinique, and our third race of the season.  It was bitterly cold with a rough sea-state when the fleet finally started, on November 7th after an 8-day postponement to allow two powerful storms to pass through.  

During the first night, a large weather front crossed the fleet bringing stronger than forecast winds. Several boats experienced damage that night, with some forced to retire immediately, while others like us, were able to pitstop to repair damage and carry on. Ollie and co-skipper Nils were forced to divert to Camaret, on the French coast, to fix a damaged section of rigging (the port D3 shroud) as it was just too rough to repair at sea. After a 6 hour stop, the pair made good progress under a conservative sail plan, still in rough weather and started to catch the fleet who had now sailed into a wind hole. 

Unexpectedly, in the early hours of day three of the race, just south of the Bay of Biscay off the Portuguese coast, the deck attachment fitting of the J2 forestay exploded. This large sail with a metal attachment at the bottom of the sail is the permanent fixed forestay on an IMOCA, that holds the mast up from the front of the boat, which meant at this time the mast was seriously compromised. The sail was flogging uncontrollably in the dark, damaging the boat, rigging and mainsail and at this point, Ollie immediately turned downwind, to relieve the pressure on the mast and minimise the damage. Under the supervision of Ollie, Nils climbed the mast to undo the mast fitting and allow the J2 sail to be dropped and taken under control. As the early morning light started to break the pair headed back to shore to assess the damage and review their options. 

Ollie and Nils, both agreed that the most important consideration was to keep the mast upright, because to dismast and lose the rig would mean the end of the Vendée Globe dream. With the J2 forestay cable attachment gone, and no fixed front support, the mast is significantly compromised and the risk of dismasting a real threat. With 8,000 miles still to race there and back, the pair decided it was simply not safe to continue and made the heart-wrenching decision to retire. This invertedly meant that Ollie was unable to compete in the Rétour a la Base race, the only single-handed race of the season. 

Although it is disappointing to finish the year on such a note, the team has taken full advantage to start the winter refit early, the boat is safely back in Port La Forêt, and has been derigged and taken out of the water. 

A Positive Outlook for 2024 

Thanks to an incredible demonstration of resilience last year in the Route du Rhum, not everything is lost, Ollie has already completed his solo transatlantic qualifying race and has secured his position as confirmed candidate for the Vendée Globe 2024.  

Our goal is still to be the first Swiss-German on the start line for the Vendée Globe and our full attention is now on preparing for the 2024 season. The first race is the Transat CIC, a solo race from France to New York due to start on Sunday 28th April 2024.   

As we have said before, the journey to the Vendée globe is not easy, if it was, everyone would do it! The team, the boat and skipper will now take time to regroup, refit, repair and build to come back stronger, and keep our dream alive.  

Please make sure you follow along as our journey to the Vendée Globe continues as your support means everything to us! 


bottom of page