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Groupama believed to have capsized off New Zealand

by Richard Gladwell, Sail-World on 18 Feb 2008
Groupama 3 leaves Lorient, France at the start of her Jules Verne Trophy attempt Groupama - Franck Cammas http://www.cammas-groupama.com

The French trimaran Groupama 3 is believed to have capsized off Dunedin during a world non-stop record attempt. She was competing for the Jules Verne Trophy and was about 24 hours ahead of the record held by the giant catamaran Orange, (Bruno Peyron) which set the record of 50 days and 16 hours in 2005.

At the last report from Groupama she had just done a run of 662nm and had just passed the halfway point on her world record attempt.

Groupama 3 is the only yacht answering the description given by rescuers in the area.


Local news sources report that:

'A rescue operation is under way to save 10 people aboard a French racing yacht 80 miles off the coast of Dunedin.

The boat capsized a short while ago.

A police southern communications centre spokesman said a mayday call was received just before 1.40pm.

It was believed the yacht was French and had a crew of 10, but little else was known.

The Wellington-based Rescue Co-ordination Centre (RCC) was handling the emergency.


A rescue squad is being mobilised this afternoon with four helicopters being sent. All ten aboard are reported to be unharmed. Late this afternoon, Sail-World spoke to Search and Rescue who woul not confirm, at that stage, that the yacht was Groupama.

Groupama 3 has ten crew and is led by Franck Cammas one of the worlds top oceanic multihull sailors. Cammas is also believed to be closely associated with the BMW Oracle America's Cup multihull challenge, and is believed to be an integral part of the design and sailing team for the BMW Oracle Racing organisation as they head towards a 90ft x 90ft catamaran America's Cup challenge with Alinghi.



Groupama 3 measures 31.50metres in length and a bean of 22.5 metres.

She has a mast height of 41 metres and weighs 18 tonnes, carrying 556 sq metres of working sails.



The latest report from the Franck Gammas-Groupama website earlier today reads:

500 miles on from the antemeridian at midday, Franck Cammas and his nine crew opted to reposition themselves to the NE so as not to suffer overly difficult seas off New Zealand. With over 35 knots of breeze and six to seven metre waves, the objective above all else is to skirt round this zone of low pressure, generating very strong winds as it shifts northwards. Of course the route to reach Cape Horn will be longer, but most importantly it is safer for the boat, which still has over 10,000 miles to go before Ushant!

'We're making towards the NE a little as the low is forcing us to distance ourselves from the centre of the disturbance where there are fifty knot winds. We should remain in manageable seas, because right now, we are in the strongest of the wind... The sea and the swell are beginning to become more ordered, but it's the first time we've encountered this type of wave. Groupama 3's handles exceptionally well in these conditions; she doesn't bury into the seas, even though there are some vibratory phenomena in the floats and beams, which are requiring us to be careful' detailed Franck Proffit at today's radio session.


Batten breakage
The reason for this caution is that on a round the world, which lasts over a month and a half, the goal is essentially to make a compromise with the seas and the wind, so as the equipment doesn't fatigue and the crew aren't put under too much pressure. Groupama 3 has demonstrated that she has exceptional potential even with rather uncooperative weather conditions, but Franck Cammas and his men also know that to go quickly, you have to have total confidence in your boat and that it serves no purpose to make it `suffer'. It is sufficient to wait for the situation to become more favourable before you put the pedal to the metal, which shouldn't be too far away given the forecasts. The Pacific in around eight days is the latest gauntlet the giant trimaran is running, in winds which will certainly still be steady SW'lies, but are soon set to shift back round to the NW with the arrival of a new low from Monday.

'We just made a gybe half an hour ago in thirty five knots of wind: we broke one batten... We can perform this type of manoeuvre with seven crew so that the guys who are resting, can continue to sleep. It's not just the gennaker manoeuvres, which require more people on deck though, so we try to set this manoeuvre in motion during a watch change where everyone is awake. Luckily it's just batten number one, which has broken (at the top of the mainsail, on the headboard), but it's not very serious: we have spare battens... We're going to wait a while before dropping the mainsail as we still have six to seven metre waves.'

This repositioning towards Stewart Island should enable Groupama 3 to trace a long wake towards Cape Horn, without the worry of icebergs coming up from the Ross Sea, thanks to its rather N'ly trajectory along 48° South. The big glide towards the tip of South America is therefore on the programme for the coming days and we can expect some astounding average speeds at the start of the week... And though Orange II was pretty quick in the Pacific, it is now an established fact that Groupama 3 can effortlessly step up the pace and make up further ground as soon as the big W'ly swell gets behind it. And in a week's time they'll already be at Cape Horn!

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