Victory for Cammas

As Groupama cruises into Rimini at the conclusion of the Challenge Mondial Assistance

Wednesday May 21st 2003, Author: James Boyd, Location: Italy
At 0604 this morning under driving rain and storms, Franck Cammas' green and white 60ft trimaran Groupama cruised across the line to take line honours in the second Challenge Mondial Assistance race from Cherbourg to Rimini. This is Cammas' second victory this season following his win in the ORMA Grand Prix in Lorient.

Cammas sailed the 2,700 mile course in 9 days 15 hours, 4 minutes and 22 second at an average speed of 11.68. Aside from him and Proffit (whom he will sail with in November's Transat Jacques Vabre), there were Ewen Le Clech, Jean-Baptiste Levaillant, Ronan Lucas and Benoît Briand in the Groupama crew.

"The conditions were hellish!" commented Cammas upon his last night at sea. "Just two reefs in the mainsail and 45 knots of wind. It veered round 90° for no reason. There was a big squall with lightning. All our electronics went down and our three GPSes too. We didn’t sleep at all during the night. The weather’s been terrible since we’ve been on the coast! I really thought Banque Populaire was going to be in front, so he must have made more mistakes than us (laughs) ! 20 miles is nothing, it was close, really close..."

This was the second occasion that the bi-annual Challenge Mondial Assistance had taken place. Last time the race was shorter finishing in Tarragona in the south of Spain and was won by Cammas' arch-rival in the 60ft trimaran class, Alain Gautier.

"It’s an intriguing and difficult course," continued the victor. "It was very interesting tactically. Clearly it’s not something I would do singlehanded. I am almost as tired as if I had been alone. And a night like last night, that would have been impossible. The three leaders were lucky not to have capsized! It was continually wet and we had our wet weather gear on all the time and even our survival suits. We acted as if anything could happen at any time. We had a beautiful sunny day yesterday in the Mediterranean and were able to dry our clothes, but it started again last night! The rhythm was high all the time, only the first two days were a little quiet as we didn’t want to force the boat."

During the race Cammas seemed unable to fully consolidate his lead, such is the competition in the 60ft trimaran fleet these days. He first moved into pole position 48 hours into the race, but never had an easy time of it and Lalou Roucayrol's Banque Populaire managed to overtake on two occasions. While the boats hurtled down the coast of Portugal at breakneck pace, the Mediterranean dealt Groupama a poor hand as they were trapped by high pressure systems on three occasions. Tenaciously they managed to prevent Banque Populaire and in particular those closing in from astern from sailing round them.

Perhaps most significant was that the Challenge Mondial once again proved how frail the new generation of 60ft trimarans are. Groupama appears to have broken less than the other boats - even Banque Populaire has suffered some structural problems with her front beam.

"We broke a mainsail batten and a tack ring, that’s all," said Cammas. "We were really easy on the boat as far as Tunisia, then we put our foot down. I prefer putting in two reefs and trinquette and going as far as we can with that rather than pushing the boat from the start. But the boat is in good shape."

The victory of Groupama also proves that the new generation of 60ft trimarans still have some way to go in their development. Cammas' green and white trimaran is a design by Marc van Peteghem and Vincent Lauriot Prevost and is almost five years old now - making her one of the oldest in the ORMA fleet. Cammas has a new 60ft trimaran design by MVPVLP on the drawing board at the moment.

"I was quite surprised with that bearing in mind that the new boats should go much faster on paper," continued Cammas. "But I remember going down the Spanish coast doing 30 knots keeping up with the pace of the others. There were many boat breaking conditions in this race. We went from mainsail/gennaker to three reefed main and small foresail. In Gibraltar, we had 45 knots with a three reefed main and inner jib. It was a good test for the boats and if they survived these conditions I think they can go anywhere! In fact, if you look into what happened you will see that the mast that broke were old masts (even if they had been strengthened), which means that the decision taken to change them was a good one. A lot of progress has been made since the Route du Rhum!"

At the time Cammas and his crew crossed the line in Rimini, Banque Populaire was 20 miles to their south. Jean le Cam on Bonduelle had played a magnificent game of catch-up and was in third place - at one point having lost a lot of time due to broken battens while crossing the Bay of Biscay they were seventh.

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