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What it takes to get a boat ready to race

Race Preparation 

Before every race there is a period of intense boat preparation, and the longer the race the more important this becomes. On a short race such as the 48-Hour Défi Azimut, you can cope with almost anything. But the next race for Oliver Heer Ocean Racing is the 30th edition of the Transat Jaques Vabre (TJV) from northern France, across the Atlantic to the Caribbean via an island off Brazil, is almost 10,000km and will take over two weeks! This is followed by a quick turnaround, and then the start of the Solo Retour la Base Race from Martinique to Lorient, France commences.  

The workload ahead of such a big event needs careful planning and is usually split into the following categories: 

  • Repairs

  • Maintenance

  • Optimisation

A sense of humour is also a must! 


First of all, there is the ‘job list’ from the last event. Luckily for Oliver and the team, this list was not too extensive and has largely been ticked off over the previous weeks. The electrical issue causing the black out encountered during the Defi Azimut Race was caused by human error. Processes have been adapted to prevent this from happening again. 

Marine electricians have tracked down and removed the ‘Gremlins’ within the auto-pilot system which was a burnt-out component, causing the system to be unreliable at times. A damaged spinnaker pole has been repaired and is ready for action again. 


All the key systems are being serviced. This includes a complete refurbishment of the hydraulic canting keel mechanism which allows the skipper to control the angle of the keel. Oliver can move his keel up to 40 degrees to either side to improve righting moment and thus, enable him to carry more sail area.  

A full rig-check looks for cracks or signs of stress (there were none). It also checks all the ropes used for hoisting and controlling the sails and looks for opportunities to make them run more smoothly – such as reducing friction, re-splicing joins and optimising rope length and material.  

All the sails have been checked, and race packed. As sails are the powerhouse on a race boat, great attention to them is being given. 

Hatches and fittings have been checked for watertightness, and a leaky forehatch seal is being replaced to make sure the boat always stays dry inside. No one wants to get wet when trying to catch up on some much-needed sleep and water inside slows the boat down as it is extra weight! 


For a longer transatlantic race, it would be impossible to carry enough fresh water on board. For shorter races, Ollie relies on a desalinator to supply him with fresh water. As the next races take him far away from land, a second water maker has been installed and tested to guarantee constant supply. For the sake of redundancy and to minimise the use of fossil fuels, a hydro-generator has been installed. This is a great way to charge the batteries aside from the traditional alternator and solar panels. 

Ollie and Nils will carry a considerable number of spares, and the necessary tools, to help them fix any problems or damages.  Apart from the technical knowledge and working understanding of all the systems on board, they also rely on a detailed inventory shared with the shore team to be able to tackle any issues faced at sea. 


The ocean sensor water sampling system which is installed on Oliver Heer Ocean Racing has also been serviced and recalibrated to ensure that the samples collected by Ollie provide accurate and reliable data to feed into global scientific databases, supporting research into sustainability. 

Thinking Ahead 

As we mentioned, just one week after the TJV finishes, Ollie will race back across the Atlantic in the ‘Retour a la Base’ race. Only this time, he will be racing solo. During that week, a number of further modifications will be made to the boat to set it up for single-handed racing, so the parts for this need to be prepared, packed up and set aside.  


In addition to the technical preparation, Ollie and Nils will complete a final test sail, checking and familiarising themselves with new equipment. Executing manoeuvres on a large IMOCA yacht is no easy task, and every skipper-pair finds their own way of working and communicating smoothly even in the most challenging conditions: at night, in strong winds and heavy seas. 

There’s a lot to do still and we would like to give a shout out to our technical team: David Le Droit “Doctor Dave”, Jon Sisouk “The nice guy” Aristide Ziros “Petit Fleur” and Micky Watts “Old Man” who are working flat out to support Nils and Ollie to be race ready.  

Remember to follow us on Facebook or Instagram for regular updates on our races. Now it’s time to get back to work. 


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