[Source: Franck Cammas - Groupama] The programme for this second sea trial was coloured by around a dozen knots of breeze and a fine chop. The main evolutions consist of rudders with a lifting surface and a flying starboard foil contrasting with a port foil, which remains classic.
Between the island of Groix and Lorient, Groupama C made in excess of 27 knots of boat speed: “the boat’s very sound and really quick. Beyond the pure navigation, we’re now working on the deck layout so as to make it as ergonomic as possible. It’s all about tinkering now, but the details will be important in enabling us to make the most of her true potential,” Louis Viat admits.
Suffice to say that there’s no shortage of work for Groupama Sailing team both on land and on the water, with their rib constantly on the water to follow the catamaran and record her performances.
[Source: Groupama Sailing Team] As ever, there was still everything to play for on this ninth and penultimate race between Brittany and Ireland! And as ever, or almost, the expected scenario of a long straight course in a stable breeze wasn’t quite how things panned out in the end. Indeed, as is frequently the case, it was over the final miles that everything changed. And, as is rarely the case, and for the first time since 1986, a French boat has come to the fore in what is the longest and most gruelling of oceanic races after 40,000 miles at sea and nearly nine months on from the race start in Alicante back in November… By finishing just astern of the New Zealanders in Galway on this final offshore leg, Franck Cammas and his men can at last wrap their hands around the Holy Grail of offshore racing, a Volvo Ocean Race win, before Saturday’s In-Port race has even played out.
The puma and the mice
This ninth leg between Lorient and Galway always promised to be a close-fought race since the 550-mile course was framed by the compulsory passages around Belle-Île, the North-West tip of Brittany, the Fastnet Rock lighthouse and the Aran Islands. Indeed the separation between the top four, never exceeded four miles, as they constantly jostled over the top spot according to the (numerous) manoeuvres which had to be performed to adapt to the irregular strength of the breeze. The Spanish led the way as far as Raz de Sein, then the New Zealanders snatched control before being overtaken by the Iberians, then the Americans, as they rounded Fastnet with Groupama 4 permanently on the attack.
As the wind clocked round from 20-25 knots of south-westerly to around fifteen knots of westerly along the Irish coast, things were continually being ramped up again, but after the Blasket Islands, Puma really looked like she had the win in the bag with a lead of a mile and half over Camper and Telefonica. Franck Cammas and his men remained in contact by positioning themselves slightly offshore. However, fifty miles from the finish, it was time to think about gybing in around a dozen knots of breeze, which was backing round to the South: Groupama 4 was the first to launch into the manoeuvre, followed by Camper, whilst the Americans and the Spanish delayed in changing course…
Despite the initial setbacks, Franck Cammas and his crew clearly showed they were the masters of the oceans. Galway, 3 July 2012. Photo copyright Ian Roman / Volvo Ocean Race
An incredible welcome!
Just as night fell the four leaders made the approach on the Aran Islands beneath the loom of the Eoragh lighthouse: the New Zealanders had a mere 500-metre lead over the French, who themselves were under pressure from the Americans, just 400 metres astern, whilst the Spanish had dropped off the pace slightly, a mile back. As for the other two VOR-70s, Sanya and Abu Dhabi, they were some 35 miles stray of the leaders… A fourth place would have been sufficient for Groupama 4 to secure outright victory in the Volvo Ocean Race, but the French crew didn’t want to ease off the pace one iota in their bid to round things off on as positive a note as their last efforts in Lorient and Lisbon.
However, the Kiwis had a firm grip on the head of this race and they took the win in their first offshore leg since leaving Alicante to finish in a time of 00h 42′ UTC and take the applause of an absolutely incredible crowd! Thousands of Irish supporters enveloped the Galway basin with extraordinary enthusiasm, which reached fever point when the French boat tied up alongside, congratulating the first Irish winner of the Volvo Ocean Race: Damian Foxall, watch leader on Groupama 4!
With this second place ahead of the Americans and the Spanish, Franck Cammas and his crew are assured of outright victory in the overall standing, even before the final `In-Port’ race sets sail this coming Saturday. With a lead of 24 points over Camper, Groupama 4 is now the unassailable, outright winner of the eleventh edition of this crewed round the world race, in what is a first for a French team since victory went to Lionel Péan and his men in 1985-86…
Quotes from the boat
Franck Cammas, skipper of Groupama 4 “To win the Volvo Ocean Race is a very fine challenge when you’re a novice in this format and French to boot! That’s what is motivating and exciting for a team: achieving what nobody expects of you. We weren’t a favourite or even an outsider at the start in Alicante. We were also in an easy position, especially as this first crewed race around the world was about learning the ropes prior to a planned second participation. We were here to discover the scene without any pressure on our shoulders, but to win was a surprise to everyone… despite putting a huge amount of work into the race over the past three years. We entered a tunnel where all we thought about was the race and we didn’t think any further than that: our world may well be a bit empty for a few days after this coming weekend. However, after a victory such as this, we’ll have many great memories and such trust in our way of working and in our strategy that we can cast our minds forward to lots of other challenges. This is an epic dream, which has come true today and I can honestly say that I didn’t think we would win on our first attempt! We’ve become a good crew over the miles. Initially we thought that the Spanish were going to walk away with the race win but we knew that it was still very close between four boats, who all had a chance of winning. It’s been an extraordinary race as there have never been so many uncertainties in a round the world race. And we’d still very much like to win the last In-Port in Galway on Saturday, just as a thank you to Thierry Péponnet, who told us to finish in front in the short races: we need to round things off in style! We’re very happy to be able to compete in the last race without any pressure on our shoulders…”
Charles Caudrelier, navigator on Groupama 4 “This final offshore leg was like a leg of the Solitaire du Figaro, except that it would take you four days in a Figaro! We had lost a bit of the sense of what this was: we found it a little hard to get into the real swing of things and we must have slept more than the others. We could see that they were all constantly out on the rail and we also knew that the outcome of this race was going to be decided at the finish and we wanted to remain rested and calm. As such we were a bit surprised that the other crews didn’t launch into their final gybe at the same time as us: it was important to head for shore! That decision cost the Americans dearly. We wanted to win this race… To show that there is the know-how in France. We knew that Groupama 4 was a very fine boat, thanks to Franck and his design team, and we saw that we were a notch higher in terms of the crew. We didn’t wonder too much about the whys and wherefores and we just worked hard, especially in the close-contact races. In fact, we’re second in the In-Port standing alone, just one point shy of the top spot! We won the race in Lorient by crushing Puma: ultimately the inshores carried a lot of weight in the hierarchy.”
Thomas Coville, watch leader on Groupama 4 “When I participated in the Volvo Ocean Race with Knut Frostad, I was like a `worker in the entertainment industry”, as I only sailed on a few legs. This time, I had a title and that changes everything! Your presence is there to serve a group, a leader, and over the nine months spent working together, the team builds in strength to reach a stage where victory is achievable. At the start, you don’t know if it’s going to work: there are so many parameters to take into account. And today, we’ve secured a win with a 24-point lead: which is no small matter! However, we still want to win the final race on Saturday for Thierry Péponnet, who was doubtless one of the key links in our ability to build up our mental strength. Indeed the preparation that went into the In-Port races largely exceeded the scope of this format: we applied his method and his advice to the offshore legs and that paid off!”
Thierry Martel, CEO of the Groupama Group “We are very proud of this exceptional victory which represents a great deal to Groupama today. However, above all else it’s a great sense of pride for all the Group’s 50,000 representatives and 38,500 colleagues after all the work accomplished by the teams, both at sea and on shore. Indeed it is representative of the tenacity, the faith in an ambitious objective and the ability to rally together and motivate a team, whatever unknown factors come their way. It is also extremely symbolic in the period we’re going through right now, which further adds to the beauty of this win. Thank you to Franck, to his crew and to all the teams onshore for having written a new and fantastic chapter in the history we’ve been building together for what is now some 15 years.”
We continue our talk with Juan Kouyoumdjian, soon to become a three-time Volvo Ocean Race winner, focusing on the current VO70 yachts, their limits and the breakages they suffered in the current Volvo Ocean Race. Last but not least, we close our discussion by briefly touching on the issue of the America’s Cup and the breakage of the Artemis AC72 wing in Valencia [Click here to read the first installment of this extremely interesting interview]:
VSail.info: I think we covered the issue of the future one-design boat exhaustively. Let’s now switch our focus to the current race and the current boats. The entire fleet, with no exception, suffered severe breakages throughout the race, raising concerns about their seaworthiness. Do you agree that they have been designed too close to the edge, compromising seaworthiness for speed? Juan Kouyoumdjian: I disagree with that although it all depends on your definition of the word “severe”. None of the boats we designed had to stop racing because of any damage. The most serious issue was on Telefonica that stopped for more or less 12 hours and I wouldn’t call that severe since she could have continued as she was although at slower pace.
VSail.info: Correct me if I’m wrong but both Puma and Groupama dismasted, forcing them to either retire from a leg or stop for a few days in order to make the necessary repairs. Wouldn’t you call that “severe”? Juan Kouyoumdjian: We didn’t design the rigging on these two boats. However, what seems a little bit worrisome, at least to me, about this race, especially because it’s a very important race for all of us, is that this notion of reducing budgets is not new. Actually, budgets were reduced in this edition but this didn’t bring more teams. If we want to focus too much on the teams that want to spend less what will happen to the teams that don’t? There are such teams and, actually, there is a team that isn’t doing this race because precisely they were not specifically budget driven.
VSail.info: I don’t understand. Are you saying that a potential team didn’t enter the current Volvo Ocean Race edition because they wanted to spend more money? Juan Kouyoumdjian: Yes, it was Ericsson. What they basically said was “We want to re-enter the race but we want to do it with our philosophy, which means two boats, two-boat testing, development and involvement from our part”. Knut Frostad’s reply was “No way, I’m not going to allow it” and Ericsson decided not to go ahead. At that time there was a notion of budget limit but that proposal was then withdrawn. There are teams that are not directly driven by budget.
Barring any last-minute disasters, Groupama will give Juan Kouyoumdjian his third consecutive victory in the Volvo Ocean Race. Photo copyright Ian Roman / Volvo Ocean Race
VSail.info: You might be right but then it’s the old “existential” question in sailing. Do we want an America’s Cup or a Volvo Ocean Race with three or with eight-ten teams? Juan Kouyoumdjian: You seem to think that smaller budgets will bring more teams. That’s the way it was presented and this is the bet Frostad himself decided to carry out. I wish him all the luck but it’s not going to work. If the intention was to drastically reduce budgets Knut Frostad should have done better than just 65 feet.
VSail.info: It is still possible that all three of your designs get the three overall podium spots of this race. As a result, I guess you have done many things well. Is there an area where you think you committed errors though? In hindsight what would you have done differently? Juan Kouyoumdjian: You always learn and progress, every time you do something. I think that the day we think we can’t do anything better, we should close the doors of this office and go do something different. If you want, I could give you a list and there are plenty of things that we should have kept a bigger eye on. If this continues, I think that making very specific cases on quality control and making sure that some pieces on the boat are built the way they were designed; this is very important. If I can make a suggestion to the people that will be involved with the new one-design it would be exactly that.
Even in a one-design there will be rudders that will be built differently, resulting in breakages. That will bring again the issue of responsibility. What happens if Team A breaks a rudder and Team B, with the exact same rudder and under the same weather conditions, doesn’t break it?
VSail.info: You will never have the exact same weather conditions. At some stages, the boats are hundreds of miles apart from each other. Juan Kouyoumdjian: The other day, Groupama and Telefonica were within meters of each other. One boat broke two rudders and the other one didn’t.
VSail.info: What caused the two broken rudders on Telefonica? Juan Kouyoumdjian: It is currently being investigated and I don’t think I should get into that right now. There is a pending investigation and we can talk about that some other time.
There is a very important issue here though. You talk about seaworthiness but it’s not about the boat alone. It also concerns the group of people that sail her. While it might be good to try to reduce costs and lower the entry level for the teams, we should always be aware that these boats will sail around the world, achieving great speeds. They will need to have a very professional and highly prepared group of people onboard, which he have in this edition and the previous one. Imagine now the situation where the bar is dropped too low and you have teams that are not prepared in terms of not having enough time on the water, not enough budget, not enough controls on the boat. It’s the debate of quantity over quality.
VSail.info: Let’s assume there are eight teams next time and with a crew of just eight, the total number of sailors in the race will not be different from what we have in this edition, give or take a few. It’s fair to assume most of the sailors would like to race again, so the pool of available sailors will practically be the same. I think we’ll see lots of familiar faces again. Juan Kouyoumdjian: However, the last entries will sail their new boat just two months before the start of the race. That team is going to break things. The last team to enter will be the one to have the least trained sailors and I still don’t understand why they keep talking about the breakages. The whole issue is wrongly explained by the experts and by that I mean Knut Frostad, because he did the race himself many times as a sailor. I’m surprised that a person that sailed this race doesn’t explain it to the public.
Let me give you very simple example. Take a rally car, the best rally car, give it to an amateur driver and ask him to race in the Finnish Rally, one of the hardest ones in the world. If he drives at 150km/h, jumps a crest and smashes into a pine how would you react? Would you claim that his car wasn’t safe enough? If he goes through a sequence of chicanes and smashes the car again how would you react? Will you claim again that the car wasn’t strong enough? This isn’t even debated in the rally world. If you jump a series of bumps, doing 150km/h and you break the car’s suspension will you blame Ford or Mitsubishi for that?
This is the point where it becomes a joke. Whoever thinks that because of doing a one-design the breakages will be reduced, is mistaken.
VSail.info: Then in your case, do we have to blame Telefonica’s crew for the breakages? Juan Kouyoumdjian: Not based on what I know today and pending an investigation of their construction, however when we design these boats there is a very clear discussion and exchange to what the limits are on the different aspects of the boat. You are very quickly facing the situation where you can design something to have more resistance or more reliability but this comes with a price that you will carry 99% of the race. So you tell the team “I’ll give you a pair or rudders that for sure there is no speed, no wave on this planet that can break them. Even if 95% of the race you’ll have more weight and more drag, in that 5% of the race that you will need it, it’s not going to break.” I can already give you the answer of 100% of the skippers.
VSail.info: Since you are now involved with both the Artemis Racing multihulls (the ORMA60 trimaran and the AC72 catamaran) could you envision the Volvo Ocean Race being sailed on multihulls? Juan Kouyoumdjian: Yes, I think so. I think that multihulls, in the world of sailing, are much more efficient than monohulls. The flatter the water is, the bigger the difference in efficiency is but multihulls suffer from sea state and waves much more than monohulls. So, in the case of a round-the-world race you would have to condition the design of the multihulls in a way to withstand these conditions and as such it wouldn’t be as fast a multihull as another high-performance multihull of the same length could be.
VSail.info: I don’t disagree but they would still be faster than the current monohulls. Juan Kouyoumdjian: Yes, they would still be faster than the current monohulls but the difference lies in the fact that a VO70 is today a very fast 70-footer, probably the fastest 70-footer there is. The fastest 70-foot multihull is probably the AC72 but you can’t race her around the world. The comparison isn’t applicable to multihulls.
VSail.info: Even if you don’t have the fastest 70-foot trimaran it will always be faster than a VO70 and it will allow you to cut the duration of the legs, let’s say from two-three weeks down to 10 days. Juan Kouyoumdjian: Multihulls is definitely a way to do that and it could be a good way of reducing costs as well.
VSail.info: Let’s now talk about the future. What’s in store for JYD after the end of this Volvo Ocean Race? Juan Kouyoumdjian: Our main focus, for sure, will be the America’s Cup. We will have to decide at some point whether we are involved in the next Volvo, even if it’s a one-design race, depending on the rules they establish. Maybe they write a rule which says that Juan Yacht Design cannot be involved. Maybe that makes it even easier for us. It’s sad to see that there is a possibility that we, as a design office, are not involved with the Volvo Ocean Race in the future.
The Volvo Ocean Race made the announcement about the new one-design and they now have to work to make it a reality. Making announcements is the easy part, making it work is the most difficult one. If it works, good luck to them but I still believe they is a big hole for grand prix offshore races.
VSail.info: Will you be involved with the IMOCA60′s? Juan Kouyoumdjian: We have designed the new Cheminées Poujoulat and we have been offered the possibility to design another one. However, in that class as well they are talking about one-design and as a result we don’t know what the future holds. If the IMOCA60′s don’t go one-design, for sure we will be involved.
VSail.info: If they do decide to go one-design what will the process be? Will they invite bids from various designers? Would you make a proposal if asked? Juan Kouyoumdjian: I don’t think IMOCA will be one-design because in my opinion one-design is not the way to go in these grand prix offshore races. One-design is not grand prix racing. It’s just a marketing event.
VSail.info: The MOD70′s are another one-design class that pretends to build a niche in offshore racing. Juan Kouyoumdjian: It’s not grand prix either, it’s just a marketing event. They still haven’t raced and we don’t know whether it will be a successful class or not.
VSail.info: Last but not least, I can’t avoid talking about the Artemis AC72 and the breakage it suffered here in Valencia a few weeks ago. First of all, did your office design it? Juan Kouyoumdjian: Well, the Artemis design team designed the wing and our office is very much embedded in the Artemis design team. What I can tell you is that we learned a lot from that experience. We are certainly applying that knowledge into what we are doing next and I truly don’t think this is going to be the last wing to have issues. We are in a very competitive world and, for the moment, I would to like to keep for myself what we have learned and I don’t want anyone else to benefit from that knowledge.
It is obviously, a setback because we would have liked to have the wing ready right at the moment the Protocol would have allowed us to sail the first AC72 boat. That’s not the case, so we will lose some momentum, we will lose some scheduled times we had originally but that’s how these projects go.
VSail.info: What kind of racing should we expect to see from the AC72′s? Juan Kouyoumdjian: I think it depends a lot on what the organizers want. If they just want a parade of boats around some buoys for marketing purposes, we will just have that. If they allow enough runway and movement for the boats and crews to express themselves I think it will be very spectacular. Since the Challenger Series and the America’s Cup itself are match races the quantity of teams is almost irrelevant. At the end of the day you just need two teams. As long as you have two, you have an America’s Cup. Whether you have five, ten or twenty challengers at the end you’ll only need two. So if your question was whether a match race race between two AC72′s would be spectacular, I think the chances are it will be very spectacular.
[Source: Volvo Ocean Race] PUMA led the fleet on the rounding of the iconic Fastnet Rock at 1031 UTC on Monday, marking the final 150 nautical mile stretch to the finish at Galway, Ireland, where the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12 race will be decided.
The final offshore leg has seen some of the closest racing yet, with the top four teams on the overall leaderboard Groupama, PUMA, CAMPER and Telefónica each switching the role of leader since the race started from Lorient, France, on Sunday.
Just six minutes separated the top four around Fastnet Rock and at 1400 UTC with 113 nautical miles remaining it was PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG who held the narrowest of advantages over Team Telefónica, CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand, Groupama sailing team, Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing and Team Sanya.
“The motivation is still there,” said PUMA bowman Casey Smith. “We’re racing hard, we’ve got all the boats around us, and we’re not going to let them get past.”
Ken Read at the helm of Puma Ocean Racing as they round the Fastnet in the lead. Fastnet, 2 July 2012. Photo copyright Amory Ross / Puma Ocean Racing
Fourth place would be enough to give Groupama overall victory from their first appearance in the race, though with conditions still far from easy nothing is certain for Franck Cammas’ team.
“No one is giving an inch,’’ CAMPER navigator Will Oxley said after a cold, rough and uncomfortable night’s sailing in the English Channel, which has pushed each crew to the limit as they fight to pour every ounce of their flagging energy into the final day’s racing and keep their winning ambitions alive.
“This leg and this Volvo race is going to come down to the wire.”
Abu Dhabi still have ambitions of winning the in-port series although their hopes of overall victory were ended by damage to their boat some time ago — and they were struggling for speed again on Monday with suspected keel damage.
“We normally struggle a bit, but now we’re struggling a lot,’’ skipper Ian Walker said. “I suspect we’ve got some damage to our keel, but there’s no way to find out till Galway.”
Sanya are eager to gain a place on the podium before the race is out and at 1400 UTC they remained in touch with the leaders, just behind Abu Dhabi.
Though the miles are decreasing the level of difficulty is not. After rounding Fastnet Rock, the most southerly tip of Ireland, the fleet sailed head first into westerly winds gusting in excess of 25 knots.
Proving key on the remaining course is the gybe that the teams will have to measure-up near the entry to Galway and a potential light wind approach, Volvo meteorologist Gonzalo Infante said.
“The leg could be won or lost on the back of how the teams play a critical gybe later today,” he said. “This gybe will set their layline to the waypoint at Inishmore Island off the coast of Galway, and if they get it wrong it could cost time and distance.
“There could also be opportunities for gains and losses in the final 30 nautical miles from Inishmore to the finish because a warm front passing over the area is causing unpredictable rain and light winds, likely less than 10 knots.”
[Source: Groupama Sailing Team] Franck Cammas and his men got off to a prudent start to avoid any contact or penalties over the preliminary 10-mile coastal course, before really going into battle mode offshore of the island of Groix. This introduction consisted of two laps favouring a tack with sheets eased, which saw the Spanish excel after an great start to leeward of the fleet. Three quarters of an hour later, Telefonica powered off under Code 0 bound for Belle-Île (an island to be left to starboard), followed by Puma, whilst Camper managed to get past Abu Dhabi on the second lap. Keen not to take any risks, Groupama 4 brought up the rear astern of Sanya, without really losing contact with the head of the fleet.
“We’re expecting a tough night ahead: we’ll have to be careful after what’s unlikely to be a gentle introduction… Indeed the leg is short so we’ll have to give our all over the next 36 hours with an easier finish where we’ll just have to focus on avoiding the zones of calm, which isn’t evident in Ireland. It’s a sprint, a large format ‘In-Port’! As such we’ve retained the same configuration as yesterday with Charles Caudrelier in the role of navigator, in place of Jean-Luc Nélias, who worked really hard on the routing prior to the start. The race isn’t over: we have to wait till Galway…” indicated Franck Cammas on the pontoons of Lorient.
Indeed, with the Coureaux de Groix devoured at an average speed of fifteen knots, the hierarchy had already changed behind the Iberian leader: their American pursuer was gradually being overtaken to windward by the New Zealanders, whilst Groupama 4 was hot on Camper’s heels on this close reach in around fifteen knots of breeze. Very much at ease in these conditions, Franck Cammas was closing fast on what is a very familiar stretch of water for them. With a tour of the island of Belle-Île compulsory, the French crew had the advantage of playing on home waters as they negotiated the current from the rising tide and the effects of the Quiberon peninsula.
Unless something extraordinary awful happens, Groupama is almost sure to have won the 2011-12 Volvo Ocean Race. Lorient, 1 July 2012. Photo copyright Ian Roman / Volvo Ocean Race
Islands and rain
These favourable conditions are set to last virtually all the way to Ireland, though the skies are likely to be laden with rain as a warm front rolls in tonight. However, the course is swarming with pitfalls along the 550-mile sprint from Lorient to Galway and it will be necessary to circumnavigate Belle-Île downwind of its cliffs, which will make the passage off Locmaria (South-East tip) fairly technical. Following on from that, in a breeze which is due to gradually shift round to the South-West, the six VO-70s will find themselves sailing with sheets eased as they tick off the Glénan Islands, Penmarch’ and then Audierne Bay. At that point, the navigators will be free to take the Raz de Sein option or the outside track encompassing Occidentale, as will be the case at Ushant, where some teams could benefit from current from the rising tide early on Monday in the Chenal du Four. The only imperative in this situation will be to avoid the prohibited zone to the North-West of the Breton island, in the shape of a parallelogram, which the coastguard is using to control shipping.
“Being the navigator is added pressure for me above all else! I was supposed to take up this role as a replacement for Jean-Luc if he was injured: I’m not settled into it very well as yet, but ultimately it’s Franck who decides in any case… We’re going to have windy conditions the whole time, which is good, except maybe at the end. Conditions are favourable for Groupama 4 (wind on the beam) and the pace is going to be quick! The concern is that there will be a lot of variations in wind strength and hence a number of sail changes: we mustn’t use the wrong configuration. We can’t afford to suffer damage either, as that would be a catastrophic scenario. The finish won’t be easy: the effect of land will play a big role and, having sailed there often, experience tells me that light airs are common, which could mean we’ll bunch together again over the final miles…” explained Charles Caudrelier.
Indeed after a spell of reaching from sunset this Sunday, with a south-westerly breeze as far as the outskirts of Fastnet Rock, (South-West Ireland), the breeze is set to ease a little as it shifts round to the South, which is indicative of a fine spinnaker battle over the last fifty miles… For Groupama 4, a podium finish in this final offshore leg would be sufficient to ensure victory in the overall standing in Galway!
[Source: Groupama Sailing Team] The advantage of playing on home waters wasn’t crucial for this In-Port race, which was run in a fine breeze of around a dozen knots of westerly wind, building to around fifteen knots at the end of the match. And yet the French team are very familiar with the Coureaux de Groix since they spent a number of months training here before taking the start of the Volvo Ocean Race back in November. The weather conditions were stable, the wind pretty steady and the tide didn’t have a huge amount of impact on strategy, as it was virtually high water. As such the focus was on high quality manoeuvres and tactical intelligence for this hour-long ninth race amidst a big on-the-water spectator crowd.
Lorient fired up
Indeed the Breton hosts managed to combine their loveliest attire with their finest assets to ensure a truly spectacular confrontation! A big offshore swell to send stomachs heaving and racing machines speeding, a solid chop which you had to properly negotiate amidst the tack changes, a little less wind to leeward of the island of Groix, but a slightly more favourable angle, sunshine and hundreds of spectator craft to envelop the course, which was set in such a way that either you had wind right on the nose or right on the tail, spiced up by two short reaches at the bottom of the playing field. Hoards of people were on the water, hoards of people were on shore, with very high stakes at play for all the teams. Groupama 4 had to keep an eye out for those coming up behind, second placed Puma was out to try and claw back some points in the overall standing, whilst Camper and Telefonica were trying to gain the upper hand in their tie. Abu Dhabi meantime was vying to maintain her domination over this type of race (3 victories to date), whilst Sanya was keen to show that she could still take the pace despite being from the former generation.
And for the four leaders in the overall standing, this match didn’t just have an impact on the deficits in terms of points, but was also an indicator of the teams’ psychological positions. As such Franck Cammas and his men left the dock at the submarine base without stress and without too much pressure, their aim being a podium place at best. They also had to try to avoid being hounded by one or several of their three pursuers. With this in mind, the start was a crucial phase. Groupama 4 opted to power off from the Committee boat end, leaving space to leeward for Sanya, Camper and Puma, which was the quickest off the start line. From there everyone made for the island of Groix, save for Abu Dhabi, which was locked out at as the starting gun fired and had to put in a tack.
Two, three, two, one
It was soon clear that the New Zealanders were in pole position, to windward of the fleet, whilst Groupama 4 had to head off to Pointe du Talud to shake off Sanya. However, uncertainty reigned because on the one hand, the wind was less steady to leeward of Groix, and also the counter current was a touch stronger and the wind a little further round to the right. Camper, Puma and Telefonica fell in line one behind the other on port tack, bound for the mark laid about two miles away, while Groupama 4 made a fine layline on starboard tack. The New Zealanders were first around the mark, but Puma had to let the French boat past to respect priority… Behind, Telefonica was also forced to bear away behind Sanya.
There were two tacks required to make the next mark: the timing of the gybe was crucial. The Americans played their hand brilliantly, just a few seconds ahead of Franck Cammas and his men, who were overtaken to windward. However, just minutes later, it was Groupama 4, who managed to trace a better trajectory to the leeward mark by slipping below Puma. After two short reaches, the fleet were back on a beat for the second leg, with Camper a few boat lengths ahead of the French team, who were ahead of the Americans and the Emiratis, the latter having made a great comeback under spinnaker. Given that everyone was controlling each other, it seemed that the match could only be won or lost on an error in manoeuvring or tactics.
Groupama Sailing Team celebrate winning the Bretagne In-Port Race. Lorient, 30 June 2012. Photo copyright Paul Todd / Volvo Ocean Race
Stealing a march
At the final windward mark, the hierarchy hadn’t changed but the distances between the top three remained slight. Puma was the first to launch into a gybe to hunt down some wind at the end of the rising tide inshore, whilst Groupama 4 tailed Camper to control her. And when the New Zealanders mirrored them, tactician Laurent Pagès suggested to Franck Cammas that it would be better to hang off a bit… In this way, the Kiwis had to force the descent to aim for the mark, whilst the French crew was able to really reap the rewards of the small gusts of wind and the big swell to pick up the pace. As a result, Groupama 4 completed the second leg at the front of the pack!
This victory comes on top of two previous wins and places Franck Cammas and his men in a very favourable position to loop the loop in Galway! There’s no denying that today’s performance has given them an even bigger boost over their pursuers, who will have to battle it out between themselves now as there are just a handful of points between them… Indeed the New Zealanders, second in Lorient, have gained an important point in relation to the Americans, and two over the Spanish. As a result the final leg, the start of which will take place at 1103 UTC on Sunday in the Coureaux de Groix, is a great opportunity for Groupama 4 to snatch outright victory before the final In-Port race in Galway, as well as being a crunch time for her three pursuers to battle it out for what is sure to be a hotly contested second place.
Quotes from the Boat
Franck Cammas, skipper of Groupama 4: “Obviously, we couldn’t have hoped for better than to win this In-Port race here, in Lorient, particularly as this wasn’t our aim at the start: we’d have been happy to finish 2nd or 3rd! Unfortunately for them, the New Zealanders left us an opening, which we quickly snapped up. It’s a real delight for the whole team, especially as there were loads of people on the water to encourage us. It’s a huge pleasure to receive this kind of welcome in a place where we prepared for this race for months. It’s good to have a 25-point lead in the overall standing too, which means that we can more serene about the next stage. It was extremely close between the top three today though!”
Laurent Pagès, tactician on Groupama 4: “The crew was absolutely fantastic in terms of coordinating the manoeuvres: we pulled everything off without a hitch. It’s a prerequisite on this type of race. It’s essential but it’s not easy to implement. I think we put in some good tacks, some fine laylines and Groupama 4 went fast to boot! Camper and Puma also sailed very well, but we had an opportunity at the end when the New Zealanders misapprehended the approach to the final leeward mark… It feels good because it’s very positive on an accounting level, dynamically it’s excellent and mentally, it’s bad for our rivals. This performance has delighted a lot of people around us too!”
Thomas Coville, trimmer on Groupama 4: “It’s a fabulous day for the whole team, a magnificent collective moment! It’s an exercise we’ve put a lot of work into for over a year and a half, and to end on this victory here in Lorient, makes a round the world worthwhile… We had a great battle on our hands with Camper and Puma, with some superb sailing conditions. We pulled a blinder on the final sprint under spinnaker: Franck decided to gybe a little later and we managed to get the inside track at the mark. We had the speed: it’s the result of some great collective cohesion. It’s fantastic!”
Standing for the In-Port race in Lorient:
1 – Groupama sailing team: 6 points
2 – CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand: 5 points
3 – PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG: 4 points
4 – Telefónica: 3 points
5 – Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing: 2 points
6 – Team Sanya: 1 point