Hats off to the French

Long awaited upbeat release from Le Defi

Friday November 1st 2002, Author: Andy Nicholson, Location: Australasia

LE DEFI AREVA beat OneWorld today to put their first point on the board. After a close round, the Americans fumbled a spinnaker drop, opening a window of opportunity for the French team. LE DEFI AREVA raced a faultless race this morning and were able to take advantage of USA 67’s messy sail handling to cross the finish line 57 seconds ahead. This afternoon’s match against GBR was a slightly different story…

It was another timely depart for Louis Vuitton racing in winds of 12-13 knots this morning. The French made a strong start in their first race today against USA 67 and had a delta of 2 seconds over their American opponent at the startline.

The first windward leg was very close and when not leading USA 67, the French were hot on their heels. The upwind boatspeed of FRA 69 was impressive alongside the American giant, and allowed the French minnow to round the first windward mark of this shortened course only 20 seconds behind.

Downwind, the French boat performed well and OneWorld managed to gain only another 6 seconds on the first leeward leg. Good sail management and excellent boat speed saw LE DEFI AREVA regain lost ground almost immediately on the final windward leg, passing ahead of USA 67 who had gaffed their spinnaker drop.

The French team led OneWorld by up to 300m for the entire third leg, the Americans struggling to free their dropped spinnaker, which had caught in the rudder of USA 67. FRA 69 rounded the penultimate mark with a nail-biting 52 second delta over the American syndicate.

The final downwind leg seemed like an eternity for LE DEFI AREVA. With USA 67 having freed their rudder and regained boat speed, it was just a matter of the French holding on to the finish line.

"We made the most of the opportunity that was presented to us today", says skipper-helmsman Luc Pillot. "Sometimes you win a match because you are faster than the other team, sometimes you win because the other team makes a mistake. Today it was us that came out on top and not the other way around. A point on the board is good feeling at last and will boost our confidence for the matches to come."

OneWorld press office had this to say:

OneWorld and the French challenger, Le Defi AREVA, had a close start today in flight eight of Round Robin 2 of the Louis Vuitton Cup. OneWorld caught a windshift and gained the lead early in the first leg rounding the top mark 20 seconds ahead of the French. USA 67 stretched its lead in the first downwind run to 26 seconds as they approached the second mark. While dropping the spinnaker, the sail dropped into the water and proceeded to wrap itself around the keel and then the rudder causing the boat to stall. The French took advantage of the opportunity and sailed away leaving the OneWorld team to recover the sail before they could continue racing. Le Defi AREVA maintained their lead and while OneWorld fought back and gained considerably they weren’t able to catch the French before crossing finish line on the shortened race course.

The second match for FRA 69 against GBR 70 this afternoon was delayed because of rising winds but the French team was on a roll. After a late arrival into the start box, LE DEFI AREVA made a perfect depart, crossing just ahead of the British team. FRA 69 had the advantage on the windward side of the course and was right over the top of GBR 70 for the first half of the first windward leg. From the beginning, LE DEFI AREVA had good control of the race, shepherding GBR to the layline in winds of around 16 knots.

Tacking back towards the top mark, LE DEFI AREVA led GBR in a drag race all the way, rounding the buoy with an 8 second lead and a perfect spinnaker set.

The first leeward leg was every bit as tense. The French led the entire stretch, solid teamwork and fine boat management finally coming together. Their spinnaker drop at the second mark was faultless as they rounded with a 10 second advantage.

But the last windward leg changed everything. GBR 70 took the lead when the French chose to guard the left instead of covering the English as both boats headed back up the course. The British led and had right of way for the whole leg in 18 - 23 knots of wind. LE DEFI AREVA’s tactical decisions were put under scrutiny as they rounded the third mark 12 seconds behind GBR and proceeded to chase the Brits to the finish with a final 14 second delta.

"It was the decision of the afterguard to cover the left and make the most of the anticipated wind shift. It didn’t happen, and the English shot through. There was some discussion on board and in hindsight, maybe we made a mistake not covering GBR, but there is always discussion on board. That’s what makes the afterguard – experience and compromise."

Tomorrow, LE DEFI AREVA will face their underdog Nemesis, Mascalzone Latino. A miracle aside, whoever wins this race will stay for the Quarter Finals. Whoever loses will be going home.

The French will nevertheless relaunch their second boat FRA 79 tomorrow for a series of modification tests.

The crew list for the French team against Mascalzone Latino tomorrow is as follows: Romain Troublé as bowman, Gilles André as second bowman, Fabrice Blondel as mastman, Jean-François Rivalant in the pit, Eric Carret as sewer, Frédéric Lemaistre and Jean-Paul Levrel as grinders, Thierry Douillard and Dimitri Despierres as headsail trimmers, Luc Gellusseau as runner and strategist, Julien Cressant as mainsail grinder, Tanguy Cariou as mainsail trimmer and Sébastien Col as traveller. The afterguard comprises Luc Pillot as helmsman/skipper, Philippe Mourniac as navigator and Sébastien Destremau as tactician. 17 th man tomorrow will be Damien Charlemagne from Devoteam.

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