America's Cup talent takes to three hullsIn the 60ft trimaran fleet the wisdom is that it takes around a year of tweaks or even major alterations for a new boat get on the pace. This was clearly proven true on the first day of the 9 Telecom ORMA circuit's Cap d'Agde Grand Prix on Friday when, after three races, Jean-Luc Nelias' Belgacom is level pegging with Alain Gautier's Foncia. Belgacom, Loick Peyron's former Fujicolor II, is now a decade old - the oldest boat in the fleet and yet still showing excellent form.
These boats and Franck Cammas' Groupama, which also did well, may not be new like Banque Populaire, Fujifilm and Fila, but they are highly developed and their crews know them intimately. In France the Offshore Racing Multihull Association's circuit has become the pinnacle of yacht racing, the place where top international stars from the world of match racing, the Olympics and the America's Cup - including names such as Marc Bouet and Thierry Peponnet - are congregating. In short, the class is now about some of the world's most talented sailors - many of them of world class calibre - racing boats which, with the exception of the big cats which took part in The Race, are the fastest boats on the water.
The first race comprised three windward-leewards and was held in a 15 knot south westerly wind with a small chop and a slight haze. Lalou Roucayrol's Banque Populaire got the best start on port sticking to the right hand side of the course, followed by Foncia, Belgacom, Fila and Bonduelle. This strategy proved a winner, for the remaining boats, who headed inshore, lost out hugely on a shift and arrived at the weather mark a full 10 minutes after the leaders. They were out of the frame from then on. Despite their speed the racing is normally very close among the 60ft tris but for once 25 minutes separate the first and last arrivals at the finish line.
Alain Gautier's Foncia - racing in this Grand Prix without Ellen MacArthur on board - lead at the weather mark and held on to her position, increasing her lead with Belgacom behind her. On the last two legs there was an excellent duel between Banque Populaire and Bonduelle, as the wind was dying and becoming unstable. This battle was unresolved until their last cross, when Figaro champion Jean Le Cam skippering Bonduelle stepped in to take third.
With the crews warmed up, competition was fierce and the wind more regular in the second race. The course was shorter with only two upwind/downwind laps. In these circumstances, the start was critical. Belgacom got off to the best start straight into clean air, edged ahead and managed to stay there, Thierry Peponnet showing his best match racing skills to fend off Foncia and Groupama. Again the right hand side of the course was favoured with boats tacking away only in order to get clear breeze.
During race two both Fila and Fujifilm had to pull out - Fila suffering a problem with her halyard locks and Fujifilm with a broken bowsprit.
Only in the third race did Quebec-St Malo winner Franck Cammas finally show form, taking line honours on board Groupama from Foncia and Belgacom.
For results see page 2...