ISAF Sailing World Cup Hyères - After a high performance introduction to preparations for the Olympic Games in Rio 2016 in the Nacra 17, the crew of Groupama, Franck Cammas and Sophie de Turckheim, did not manage to qualify for the Medal Race, though they did secure fourteenth place in the overall ranking. And yet what might appear from the outside to be a counter performance, the French crew is another step forward on their learning curve on this highly technical catamaran, particularly in the breeze. We review this past week of racing with those parties concerned.
Monday 21 April
In the sublime harbour of Hyères, one of the French bases for the Olympic series, the wind varied between 12 and 20 knots. With the aim of raising their game in the breezy conditions, the crew of Groupama did what it set out to do. Third in race No.1 after initially leading, Franck and Sophie had more difficulty in the following two races, bagging ninth and eighth place and a thirteenth place in the provisional overall ranking in round A. This prompted the following response from Sophie: 'Our poor starts cost us dearly. It put paid to our potential because we are actually quick'.
Tuesday 22 April
The sun rose over the harbour and an easterly breeze of some fifteen or so knots swept the race zone. Adamant they were going to regain a level of performance that befitted their rank, Franck and Sophie switched to offensive mode. Leading at the first windward mark in race No.4, they finished fourth. In the following race, they were second. Then in race 6, and still very quick upwind whilst leading the race, their spinnaker tack line broke, relegating them to last place. Annoying: 'What we retain most from today is our great speed upwind. It's obviously frustrating to lose places due to technical breakage but that's part and parcel of racing. We can only be annoyed with ourselves' Franck summises. At the end of this second day, Groupama is lying in eleventh place overall whilst compatriots Besson - Riou are lying in second.
Wednesday 23 April
Still graced by glorious sunshine, the wind has switched round to the west and is building in Hyères. The fleet is again split into two halves, Franck and Sophie sailing with the top players in the GOLD round. Performing a very good start in the middle of the line, the crew of Groupama is at the front of the pack. On starboard tack and in third position as they round the leeward gate and make for the right hand mark, Franck is ejected from the Nacra 17 by an Italian competitor, on port tack, it too aiming for the right hand mark. Groupama capsizes and is ultimately disqualified by a jury whose decision is simply incomprehensible. Having already posted a poor position on the second day, things are starting to get complicated in the overall ranking. The next two races will also be complicated with a 16th and 27th place.
This prompts the following response from Franck: 'Beyond the jury's decision, we need to make progress with our starts. The races are short and we don't have time to play catch-up'. Sixteenth in the provisional overall ranking, Groupama sees its chances of being part of the Medal Race seriously diminish. Meantime, we note that multiple world champion, Australian Darren Bundock secures the top spot ahead of the irremovable Besson - Riou and the very solid Italians Bissaro - Sicouri.
Thursday 24 April
The wind is playing on the nerves of both the competitors and the race committee. After several attempts, the start of the tenth race is given in a light six to eight-knot wind. Tactically inspired and fast upwind and downwind, Franck and Sophie secure a very fine second place, whilst the overall leaders make laboured progress in the middle of the fleet. Their hopes of being part of the Medal Race are building: 'It feels good to sail in light airs. It's less physical and we're going well to boot,' states the crew aboard Groupama 17.
However, the south-westerly wind gradually picks up. The eleventh race doesn't enable the Groupama crew to follow through on its solid start to the day. The authors of a decent start alongside Besson - Riou, they just miss out on the salutary gust, which will enable their compatriots to take off and secure a bullet in a freshening breeze. Sixteenth at the finish, they are in the same position overall whilst the Italians take the overall lead ahead of Besson and Bundock.
Friday 25 April
Though mathematically access to the Medal Race is still a possibility, Franck and Sophie's chances of making the final are slim, as was the case in the SOF in La Rochelle or the Sailing World Cup in Palma. In a steady medium wind, while Besson - Riou earn themselves three safe bullets (they are disqualified in the first race for a debatable ONS) Groupama takes 14th, 10th and 15th place: 'We're in our rightful place in these weather conditions. We've made real progress in relation to last year but we still have some work to do,' Franck Cammas concludes.
In conclusion, the French crew is up to par in up to 12 knots of breeze but it still has to make progress in handling the Nacra 17 in the breeze and also in the manoeuvres. It's an observation that the Groupama skipper is very much aware of: 'By coming to Hyères it was our aim to race against the top players in the breeze. This is another reason why we're going to Medemblick in a month's time, where it's generally windy. We also need to work on the starts'.
As we await the next event, Franck and Sophie will be taking off to Qingdao, China this Sunday, where they'll be competing in the third leg of the Extreme Sailing Series circuit aboard Groupama 40 with Tanguy Cariou, Devan Le Bihan and Thierry Fouchier. Among their main contenders are Dean Barker (TNZ) and Ben Ainslie.
The top 3 in the definitive overall ranking:
1/ Bissaro - Sicouri
2/ Besson - Riou
3/ Bundock - Curtis