Groupama 4 has completed the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12 2,023 mile qualifier course and is now officially qualified for the next edition of the Volvo Ocean Race.
Ultimately, 2,138 miles were covered at the average speed of 15.5 knots. Tired but happy with their sailing, the crew took the time out, at 0400 hours this morning, to review this first long offshore experience.
'We encountered all the necessary weather conditions to make this a good qualifier. We left Lorient close-hauled in breezy conditions as far as Cape Finisterre. The descent of Portugal involved a reach and then we encountered upwind conditions, a windless zone and more reaching as we made towards the Azores. Finally, during the last 800 miles, we enjoyed some downwind conditions in 30 knots of breeze! A sheer delight!' says Phil Harmer, trimmer/ helmsman on Groupama 4.
Testing with a view to optimising Franck Cammas, skipper of Groupama 4, was keen to experience a variety of points of sail during this session on the water so as to test the new monohull in all manner of conditions.
'Heading offshore for several days enables us to really get the boat and the crew into race configuration. We now know a bit more about how Groupama 4 performs and her limitations. We managed to rack up increasingly high average speeds, proving that we'd found the right trim, positioning and balance for the boat.' Indeed it's worth noting that the Volvo Open 70 reached speeds bordering on 30 knots in downwind conditions of 32 knots!
'The crew is gaining in confidence with the boat. Even though we encountered some technical issues linked to the recent installation of certain systems, we always remained focused on performance.'
Damian Foxall, crew manager and helmsman aboard Groupama 4 backs up this sentiment. 'We have a very good boat which is quick. All the work done on the sails and the layout is a success. As regards the crew, that works in the main as we've been sailing together for over a year. We're beginning to get to know each other well and the communication onboard is becoming natural.'
Australian sailor Phil Harmer has a very special barometer of his own for assessing how well the crew are getting along. 'If we're still joking when we're back on the pontoon then it's a sign that the crew is working well!' Given the smiles and laughter in the early hours of this morning, there's no doubt that things are panning out nicely for the crew.
Being on board Groupama 4 Two outside observers took up position aboard Groupama 4 for this qualifier. Back safe and sound, they gave us their feedback about sailing aboard a Volvo Open 70.
Olivier Peretié, journalist. 'There are two words to describe this extraordinary experience: ‘Wet' and ‘Stacking'. The first surprising thing is that the cockpit is very often submerged. The other thing is that the power of the boat calls for you to have all the weight to windward so you soon discover the delights of shifting extremely heavy sails. There is zero comfort but everything is so functional that you very quickly manage to get your bearings and even sleep comfortably.'
Bruno Jeanjean, bowman aboard Groupama 3, who came along for the ride to discover the bowman's role aboard Groupama 4 in case a stand-in is needed during the Volvo Ocean Race. 'Making the transition from a three-footed beast to a monohull from the Volvo Ocean Race is an exercise I'd describe as being a lot wetter. The foredeck is more exposed than on the trimarans. You'd almost need a mask and snorkel to do the job on this boat.'
Now qualified, Groupama 4 will take part in some inshore training in Lorient in early July. The boat will then be lifted out and put in the yard for a refit until the end of July. The crew will make the most of the time on the hard to optimise the monohull and put her through some more scrutineering before she's relaunched in early August.
Volvo Ocean Race website