Groupe Bel ready for action
Kito de Pavant's IMOCA 60 Groupe Bel was put back in the water earlier this month after a six week refit in Port Camargue. The red VPLP-Verdier plan, which has already sailed 75,000 miles - the equivalent of three round the worlds - since she was launched in September 2007, has now been returned to its full potential and has a brand new keel.
She has recently been taking part in some training sessions, along with the Finot-Conq designed DCNS 1000, skippered by Marc Thiercelin and Luc Alphand. The aim of course for Groupe Bel is the Vendée Globe 2012 but this autumn she will compete in the Transat Jacques Vabre with co-skipper Yann Regniau.
What news do you have about Groupe Bel after this yard work?
Kito de Pavant: “Groupe Bel now has a latest generation keel. Although it is still based on the same philosophy as the previous one, it meets 2011 design and production standards. We have also worked on the general condition of the boat. After tests "from roof to sole", we observed that Groupe Bel's structure has not changed in any way, which is important after three years of use, particularly in difficult seas such as this winter during the Barcelona World Race. We were able to reduce the weight inside the boat further by 150 kg, with a view to the Transat Jacques Vabre, which is a double-handed sprint that lasts about 20 days, but has very little relation to a round-the-world. Finally, we are postponing one job until August. This will be devoted to changing the cabintop. We hope to improve the protection and comfort of the helmsman at his station, with a view to the Vendée Globe and to confirm this during the Transat Jacques Vabre."
Over to training with your co-skipper Yann Régniau. What are you going to work on?
"The first part will be devoted to optimising the electronics on board during a series of trips out in the bay. The second part will focus on "offshore" sailing. We have planned a few days sailing offshore with DCNS 1000. The purpose of this is to strengthen our watch rhythm and our sailing together double-handed. Finally, we will conclude with ten days or so of manoeuvre-based sailing. Our boats are complicated as a result of the wide variety of trimming points. We will need to work on the speed of execution since we can gain a great deal by being good in transitional weather areas and points of sailing. We must be able to anticipate, and sail smoothly without rushing!"
Since 2009, the Transat Jacques Vabre has taken you to Costa Rica and not to Brazil, what does this change?
"Our boats are increasingly high-performing and there is little scope for progress. In my opinion, this course heading to Costa-Rica includes a greater number of pitfalls than the one that took us to Brazil. It is more tactical and there are a greater number of options. It is almost a Route du Rhum format. For example, I think that the final section in the Caribbean is not easy to handle with a strong wind and a very short sea. It could even be a very close finish with the predominant storms at that time of year. We will need to be vigilant. It will be intense and this will make it all the more interesting."
You are already working towards the Vendée Globe 2012. After this Barcelona World Race in which Groupe Bel rounded the three capes, do you have a better idea of what competing in a round-the-world represents?
"I am much more confident! I admit that mentally these last few months have not always been easy. I am very happy that Groupe Bel is back sailing again. I really missed this! I get the impression that the Vendée Globe will arrive before we know it! Four years ago, at the same time, we were still building her, but that feels so long ago. Today, I feel that I am already in line with this single-handed round-the-world. The Barcelona World Race (double) strengthened my confidence in Groupe Bel's qualities in hostile seas, and in my own ability to handle this type of sailing, which is particularly demanding in the long term."
What motivation do you have for setting off again and again?
"The desire, the trust I have in my boat and particularly the unfailing support of my partner Bel, and its workers. And finally, of course, my team, which once again has carried out a huge job."
Read about why Groupe Bel sponsor sailing here
You can see why she might need a tad more protection...