Yvan Zedda / Groupama

Groupama 4 christened

Eric Tabarly's former navigator does the honours

Saturday June 11th 2011, Author: James Boyd, Location: France

Gerard Petipas, who brings a direct link to one of the most celebrated figures in the history of offshore racing, officially christened a new era for his country in the Volvo Ocean Race on Saturday.

Petipas, 71, was considered the best choice to launch the new Volvo Open 70 Groupama, the first French entry in the fully crew round the world race since 1993-4, following a sailing career that included 15 years navigating for Eric Tabarly whose figure continues to tower over French sailing 13 years after he was tragically lost at sea.

Tabarly, a winner of the Legion d’honneur for his achievements which included two famous victories in the OSTAR, was the last man to helm a French boat in the Volvo Ocean Race, then the Whitbread Round the World Race.

On that occasion Tabarly finished seventh, but was then into his 60s and handicapped by only taking over the maxi ketch La Poste halfway through the race after some of the crew had been involved in an on-shore punch-up in South America.

Without Tabarly, the race would arguably not be where it is today. He brought considerable prestige to the first Whitbread Round the World Race in 1973 by representing the sailing-crazy French and in that race finished second aboard Pen Duick VI, the boat incredibly he would win the 1976 OSTAR in - sailing it singlehanded.

In these footsteps follows Cammas, a man similarly raised in France’s grand sea-faring traditions, who will fly the tricolor against the cream of the world’s skippers for his sponsor Groupama.

“The Volvo Ocean Race for Groupama Sailing Team is an adventure which gives us the chance to develop new technologies, a little like when we started in multihulls,” said Cammas. “Effectively the last French team to have participated was Eric Tabarly in 1993 in the boat La Poste. It is an honour for Groupama and I to represent France in this challenge since up to now. We are the only French team involved.”

When asked about his international team-members, Cammas explains the reasoning behind his choices. “First if all you mustn’t forget, that we are starting in a new sort of race for us and consequently it seems to me indispensible that we integrate people into the team that have already had real experience in this kind of racing. And that includes not only the sailors but also the technical team.”

The christening ceremony was held in the shadow of the famous Cité de la Voile museum in Lorient, which was built in tribute to Tabarly and French sailing history. After the christening, Cammas asked Petipas to explain to the crowds of public who came to see the occasion, his connection with the team.

“Because of the links that unite at the same time Franck to me and also Groupama,” explained Petipas. “It’s a symbolic link between Franck, Eric Tabarly and the boat Pen Duick VI, which can be seen several metres from here.”

Knut Frostad, Volvo Ocean Race CEO, who also attended the christening said: “This is what I always dreamed about for the Volvo Ocean Race. I always wanted to create a race contested by the true greats of the sport, be they from New Zealand, the United Kingdom or wherever and this year we’ve finally done it. A real Clash of the Titans.

“Without France, as we have been for 17 long years now, you could never say the Race had the very best from the entire world. With Franck competing for Groupama now we have it. It will be a tough challenge for him. He has the weight of a country’s expectations on his shoulders. The French are a great sailing nation but traditionally their greatest efforts have been directed on their own races. This time we have a French challenge against the best of the rest of the world in a great round the globe race. For him, sailing with an international crew, it is unknown territory.”

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