Photo: Hervé Giorsetti/Groupe Bel

Groupe Bel back in action

Kito de Pavant's IMOCA 60 back in the water after her winter refit

Thursday March 29th 2012, Author: James Boyd, Location: France

After one hundred days in the yard, the Groupe Bel IMOCA 60 was launched again on Wednesday at Port Camargue.

“It is such a pleasure to get back to sea on Groupe Bel,” said a beaming de Pavant yesterday. “We have kept to the deadlines for this substantial refit, which is the last important one before the Vendée Globe.”

Over the winter the red VPLP/Verdier design has had a complete change of computer and electrical systems and a full overhaul of the boat.

“We checked the structure from top to bottom, since Groupe Bel has sailed the equivalent of three round-the-worlds. Our minds are at rest and we are confident for what is to follow! Through small details, we have also reduced her weight,” says de Pavant.Another goal was to improve Groupe Bel's performance on certain points of sailing. "We changed the volume of the ballast tanks. This will mean it will be easier to balance the boat. We now need to ensure this works at sea.”

Meanwhile Groupe Bel's skipper has been working out with two or three sessions per week under the guidance of Olivier Maurelli, his physical fitness coach, whom he shares with the handball players of Montpellier and the football players of Arles-Avignon.

As to the program this year, this is slightly up in the air since de Pavant heard on Tuesday afternoon that the Europa Race, which had been due to start on 5 May from Istanbul, had been cancelled. “I am stunned by this news, since I was really attached to this event. In 2009, we finished second and the 2012 format seemed good for my preparation for the Vendée Globe. As of today, we are going to study another sailing schedule. For me, the main thing is to clock up as many miles as possible before 10 November.”

So, from Saturday, Groupe Bel will return to sea for a series of trials lasting roughly ten days, off the coast of her base at Port Camargue. “We have also planned a week of training off the Mediterranean coast in mid-April,” he adds. So, there is a lot to be done before July, date at which the monohull will be dry docked and brought completely into line with the requirements of the Vendée Globe.

Also this year de Pavant will be continuing to engage the employees of Groupe Bel with his campaign. To date 7,500 of them have fixed their thumbprints to the boat's mast as a sign of support and a second edition of the Sharing Smiles Regatta is due to be held over 28 June until 1 July when more than 150 Bel workers, from 30 countries or so, will get to sail their red IMOCA 60.

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