2014 -15 Volvo Ocean Race - Franck Cammas bucks the trend of top class ocean racers who tend to be built on the very massive side. But the little Frenchman still ranks as one of the toughest around, a man whose word is law on any boat he choses to skipper. Ask him about Charles Caudrelier, though, and he immediately breaks into a broad smile.
When we caught up with the man who won the last Volvo Ocean Race at his first attempt, exhausted and unshaven he looked like he’d rather be tucked up in his bunk than answering our questions after a day of hot competition in the Extreme Sailing Series in Oman.
Talk about his fellow Frenchman Caudrelier, the newly appointed skipper of Dongfeng Race Team, though, and suddenly the defences fall away. You can barely haul him off the subject.
'Ah, Charles,' he beamed. 'Charles is a very easy guy in a group. There’s never a problem with Charles.'
The pair have known each other since they met up as newcomers 20 years ago and immediately struck up a firm friendship based on growing mutual respect both on and off the water.
In many ways, they are chalk and cheese. Cammas tends to give very little time to people he regards as fools and will tell them so; the ever-amiable Caudrelier deals with them with a shrug and a laugh.
Their relationship was put to the ultimate ocean racing test in the last Volvo Ocean Race on board Groupama 4, especially when Cammas’ first leg gamble to hug the African coast failed to pay off with the spectacular gains he’d bargained on. Cammas needed guys he could trust on Groupama 4 and Caudrelier fell firmly into that category.
Slowly but surely, Cammas and Caudrelier, his trimmer and sometime back-up navigator, turned their fortunes around before eventually overhauling long-time leaders Telefónica to take overall victory. Most of all, you suspect, Cammas wanted someone he could bounce ideas off and speak honestly to. Caudrelier filled that role perfectly.
'I’m friends with Charles so I can speak with him very frankly,' he said. 'I criticise him and he can criticise me. He understands very well all the issues on board – he’s done a lot of single-handed sailing and that means he’s done all the roles.'
If Cammas has plenty to thank Caudrelier for, he’s happy if the 2014-15 race proves to be payback time. Caudrelier, who passed his 40th birthday in February, has been given one of the toughest challenges in the race in building a crew virtually from scratch with three to four coming from China.
'The Chinese candidates are full of enthusiasm and determination but they have no experience of ocean racing,' said Caudrelier at the recent Dongfeng boat’s christening in Sanya. 'It’s a voyage of discovery - literally - for them.'
Caudrelier says he often picks Cammas’ brains on his first Volvo Ocean Race as a skipper. 'The big challenge is maintaining the respect of the crew because it’s a very long race,' he said.
'The interesting thing with Franck is that pressure never seems to affect him. There’s never a change in him. He always thinks he can win and every day he is looking for an improvement. I can learn from that.
'We have very different styles of leadership, I’m more easy-going than Franck but we’re both trying to do the same thing: build a team that can work together.
'We just do it in different ways.'