Record trimaran fleet for Challenge Mondial AssistanceIf the cream of British sailing is our Olympic squad, many now in the able crew of our GBR Challenge America's Cup challenger, in France the yacht racing elite is gathering in Cherbourg this week to take part in a rather different form of yachting event.
The Challenge Mondial Assistance is a new long distance race in the Offshore Racing Multihull Association's (ORMA) calendar for the French 60ft trimaran fleet. Starting from Cherbourg this Saturday (12 May) the nine tris taking part must round the island of Sao Miguel in the Azores before heading south to Gibraltar and on to the finish in Tarragona in southern Spain. In total the course is 2,700 miles long but should take the boats just seven days to complete.
Last year it was the Open 60 monohull fleet which swelled prior to the Vendee Globe. This year the attention of France's top sailors has turned to the ORMA trimaran circuit. At present the focus of this fleet is ultimately upon the 2002 Route de Rhum, the French equivalent of the OSTAR running between St Malo and Guadeloupe. This event is hugely popular with the French public and media alike and due to this skippers are able to find the necessary sponsorship funds to build new boats. As a result this year the ORMA fleet will truly come of age with around 12 full-on trimaran campaigns expected to be racing by the end of the season and 15 or more by the time of the Route de Rhum next year.
As present the ORMA circuit is the pinnacle of sailing in France and the skippers of the 60ft trimarans are at the very top of their sport. They include Loick Peyron who has twice won the OSTAR and most recently came second in The Race, Alain Gautier winner of the 1992/3 Vendee Globe and Franck Cammas, who at 28 years old is the youngest skipper in the fleet, but one of the most capable having won the prestigious Solitaire du Figaro at the tender age of 24.
Unlike many of the long distance events in the ORMA calendar, the Challenge Mondial Assistance is fully crewed. Boats are usually raced with six or seven on board although Jean-Luc Nelias' Belgacom is sailing with just five. Crews are a fascinating mixture of Olympic and America's Cup sailors, Whitbread vets, Vendee Globe and Figaro entrants and winners and many whose sea boots have only recently dried out from The Race. As a melting pot for different sailing talents this class is hard to beat.
On board Foncia, Alain Gautier has a new crew in the form of Ellen MacArthur who is navigator on board. Gautier was part of Kingfisher 's design team and was so impressed by Ellen's ability that he invited her on board for the season. Ellen has already had some trimaran experience sailing the Bourgnon brothers' famous Primagaz (now Bayer en France) in the Fastnet race. Whether her season sailing with Gautier is the prelude to Ellen getting her own 60ft trimaran remains to be seen.
...for a list of competitors, see page 2