ruling the world

ruling the world

Our friend Jocelyn Blériot has focused much of his writing skills on the crazy world of offshore multihull sailing, and here he gives his perspective on Groupama’s amazing accomplishment…

Ten years ago, as I was having a chat with him about the imminent start of The Race, French monohull guru Jean-Marie Finot told me "Not too far from now the most advanced sailboats will go around the world in 40 days", and if it does not sound that blunt in the light of recent events, one has to bear in mind what that statement implied in 2000. At that time, the Jules Verne Trophy stood at 71 days, so Jean-Marie was casually knocking a whole month off of the reference time without even blinking. Some dismissed it as a rhetoric stunt, others thought that getting below the 50-day barrier was not achievable aboard a traditional displacement boat.

Giant maxis were then all the rage, the JV fell to 64 days in 2002 with Peyron, then Fossett brought it down to 58, and Peyron landed a perfect 50 in 2005… Now the mighty Groupama 3, which just became in all simplicity the first sailing craft to ever sail around the planet in LESS than 50 days, is another sort of beast and broke the ‘get bigger’ trend when she was conceived. As designer Vincent Lauriot-Prévost put it at the time, "She’s not a maxi multi, we did not want to adopt the approach consisting in increasing length." Having had the luck to be invited for a sail onboard soon after her launch, I’ve been indeed impressed by the similarities between this beast and a 60-footer in terms of acceleration and reaction to variations in wind strength – of course, an ORMA 60 and G3 are different animals (notably in terms of safety) but the latter is certainly closer to the former than to a "The Race" generation maxi.

At 31.5 metres, G3 is not exactly a small trimaran, but compared to her biggest active rival, Banque Populaire 5, she’s definitely dwarfed. Cammas’s boat was designed to perform especially well in transition phases such as the Doldrums, where traditionally bigger and heavier boats lose a lot of miles, not to power through any crap Neptune was bound to throw at her with the inertia of an Australian road train. In terms of philosophy, Groupama 3 was to a certain extent the antithesis of Orange II, and it probably felt like a blow to Cammas’s team when Banque Pop 5 was unveiled – in a way, that giant represented the best of both worlds.

Groupama’s latest Jules Verne campaign definitely must be seen under that light, because if Bidegorry’s troops had set off this winter too, Cammas’s chances would arguably have been more limited. Banque Pop is a 900+ miles per 24-hours machine, and even if she hasn’t been tested and optimised as much as G3, she’s proven her worth on the Atlantic this summer and it’s pretty likely that all her potential hasn’t shown through yet. So was it a case of "this year or never" for Cammas? Well, nuances could apply to the formula, but let’s say it was something along those lines, and setting off twice in the same winter certainly reveals the urgency of the affair. Crossing the line, swallowing Biscay before turning back because of a torn sail and setting off again is one thing, but breaking the boat and ending up in Cape Town (as it happened to Cammas in November) is another story: would the crew have called it quits for this year if it hadn’t been for the BP5 menace? All we can do is tip our hats off to the G3 guys, because handling the stress and fatigue of 2 round-the-world departures within less than 3 months shows some determination.

The crew list reads a like a "best of" compiling some of the most prominent names of the offshore racing scene of the past decade, with Jules Verne / The Race vets, Route du Rhum / VOR winners, a fisherman-turned-JV-holder – I won’t go through a detailed list of those gents’ feats, but it surely would be very impressive (albeit a bit tedious) to do so. SA readers will be interested to pinpoint the presence of USA’s own Stan Honey onboard Groupama 3, a boat he already knew quite well for having broken the Atlantic record on her. Stan’s crew mates have praised his professionalism and concentration on many occasions, but what we’d really like to know is how good his French slang has got, given those guys certainly have taught him a couple of interesting idiomatic expressions. After his 2002 adventure aboard Orange, Nick Moloney came back with a nice selection of hilarious ones… Hopefully Mr Honey will give SA a little "behind the scenes" account of the adventure? In any case, the Groupama men have achieved a feat that will go down in sailing history. and should be saluted as such.

Jocelyn Blériot

To get all the latest info, crew quotes, journey highlights, intermediary reference times and multimedia content, turn to the outstanding coverage courtesy of the excellentissimo Dominic Bourgeois here.