France shows its hand
As battle lines are being drawn up with the Brewin Dolphin Commodores' Cup due to start on Sunday 22 July, so France has been the final nation to reveal its team line-up.
Over the course of this spring and summer French contenders have been undergoing their own intense trials to determine the final three boat team, under the watchful eye of a Selection Committee comprising Henry Bacchini, Vice President of the Fédération Française de Voile, Marc de Saint Denis, President of the UNCL, and Jean-Michel Carpentier, UNCL Vice President and chair of the Racing Committee.
The three boats chosen are:
Beelzebuth 3, the Grand Soleil 40 owned by Olivier Pesci
Eleuthera, the Grand Soleil 44 R of Hervé Borgoltz
Nutmeg IV, J/122 of François Lognoné
The French trials took place over a much longer series of regattas than the British ones, including Spi Ouest France, the Course des Trois Iles, Obélix Trophy, Grand Prix IRC Manche Ouest, Cervantes Trophy, Grand Prix du Crouesty along with Normandy Sailing Week.
The result is the cream of the French IRC will be heading for the Solent in the last week in July to compete against the six other international three boat teams.
The form boat among the French trio is Beelzebuth 3, currently IRC 1 leader of the Championnat Manche IRC UNCL 2012, the French equivalent of the RORC Season's Points Championship.
Olivier Pesci and the Beelzebuth 3 Grand Soleil 40 crew have so far this season won their class at the Grand Prix de Saint-Cast, the Grand Prix IRC Manche Ouest and the Cervantes Trophy and finally the Normandy Sailing Week, where she was tied on points with Eleuthera.
Owner of Eleuthera, Hervé Borgoltz, only acquired his Grand Soleil 44 R in March, but since then his team has had very good results on France's Atlantic and Channel coasts including a third in the Spi Ouest France Intermarché, followed by a second at the Grand Prix de Crouesty and second at Normandy Sailing Week.
Of the three boats Nutmeg IV and her crew led by François Lognoné has the most experience of their boat and of the French line-up is the only boat to have previously competed in the Brewin Dolphin Commodores' Cup when they were in France White two years ago. Since then Nutmeg IV won IRC 2A in last year's Rolex Fastnet Race. This season she finished 16th at Spi Ouest- France Intermarché, was third in the Grand Prix IRC Manche Ouest and fifth at Normandy Sailing Week.
The French line-up this year is effectively from 'north Brittany', with Nutmeg IV and Beelzebuth 3 based in the St Malo area while Eleuthera is currently berthed in La Trinité-sur-Mer, but owner Hervé Borgoltz has a house on the Channel coast at St Brieuc.
While Eleuthera is new to the Brewin Dolphin Commodores' Cup, her team is not. This will be Hervé Borgoltz's fourth time competing, his first back in 2000 on a Sydney 40, while he raced with Géry Trentesaux on the First 44.7 Courrier de Coeur as part of the winning French Blue team in 2006. His crew is the same group of friends who have been sailing together for more than a decade now, first aboard the familiar Corby 40 Cracklin' Rosie, then on Courrier de Coeur (which he acquired from Géry Trentesaux) and then on the First 40 Coup de Coeur.
Of his results this year Borgoltz says he is proud of Spi Ouest France. "There were eight races and in seven we beat Inis Mor, the Ker 39, which won Spi Ouest France last year and we had only had the boat a month and a half before then..."
For the Brewin Dolphin Commodores' Cup they have bought new sails from Ullman France. They will have a representative from that sail loft on board for the event as the one Category 3 'pro' they are allowed under the event's rules, that aim to keep the event predominantly Corinthian.
Of his boat's prospects in this year's event Borgoltz says: "I think we have a very good crew. Jean-Philippe Cau, our helmsman, is quite confident. We hope that we will be among the three top teams, but you know sport is a hazard, nothing is 100% certain and there can be surprises."
"We have a very good rating for IRC and our 44 footer is one of the biggest boats in the fleet, so I hope we shall sail ahead and will always have clean air, which is a big advantage."
"Two years ago the Irish team was very well prepared and they had three excellent boats and were first most of the time, but it will be much more open this year."
While he admits they don't have the knowledge of the Solent and its surrounding waters that the British crews have, Borgoltz says at least half of their crew has sailed there a lot.
As to Eleuthera's team mates, Borgoltz observes: "Beelzebuth 3 is a very good boat and is very speedy and very well preparing because Olivier is a fanatic about his boat - everything must be more than perfect! And Nutmeg, they know their boat very well. In the last Fastnet Race they were third and they race a lot and they know the Solent and the Channel very well, so they have very good experience of that."
As a last warm-up prior to the Brewin Dolphin Commodores' Cup, all three boats in the French team will be competing in the Cowes-Dinard-St Malo race over the weekend of 13-15 July.