I was at Cape Town Waterfront talking to a disappointed French support team before Franck Cammas and Groupama trailed in after a disastrous first leg. After all the hard work and excitement of designing and building the boat and getting her and her crew ready, this was an anticlimax. Picking the wrong route wasn’t the only thing to go wrong. In later legs, they lost a mast, and even had a split in the hull.
But by the time Groupama arrived in her home port of Lorient she was race leader. Cammas and his team had been getting better and better as the race progressed, and now Groupama was showing all her potential. Téléfonica had suffered rudder damage in a hell-for-leather dash in which four boats deliberately aimed for the strongest winds in a deep depression and kept pushing hard, each determined not to be the first to slow down.
Iker Martinez’ description of them ‘going along nicely’ just before Téléfonica crashed off a wave and broke a rudder was an indication of just how hard these boats get pushed. I’ve seen big boats sailing downwind as close to the limit in the Solent, but not in the open sea in northern Biscay. “Don’t talk to the man on the wheel”, they say. Too bl**dy right.
And then, just to show that Volvo crews really are made up from the world’s most competent and determined sailors, they replaced Téléfonica’s rudder, in a Biscay gale, in half the time a typical boatyard team would have done it in a marina. To no avail – the other rudder was sick, and they had to balance the rig to nurse her home at ‘only’ 15 knots or so.
Commenting on the Pro-Am and in-port races in Lorient, his old rival since Solitaire du Figaro days Alain Gautier commented that Cammas never, ever gave up. It was unnerving to have him even an apparently safe distance behind you – as soon as you made a mistake, he’d be on top of you. Both Kenny Read and Ian Nicholson can confirm that.
In both the Lorient in-port race and the Lorient-Galway leg, Cammas sailed to keep out of trouble and protect his lead – but he didn’t make mistakes, and was always close enough to profit when his opponents made theirs.
Franck Cammas doesn’t even need to finish the Galway in-port race to win overall, but I don’t mind betting that he gives us more excitement each time. What would you give to be one of the lucky guests in the last Pro-Am?