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Franck Cammas: ‘New York Vendée has been like trying to sail through brick walls’

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As Head of Performance of the Orient Express Racing Team – the French challenger for the America’s Cup – Franck Cammas has his work cut out.

But he has been keeping a close eye on the progress of the IMOCA fleet, in what has proved to be an unusual passage across the north Atlantic in the New York Vendée-Les Sables d’Olonne race.

Cammas says the 28 skippers in the 3,600-nautical mile transat, which in theory should have been fast and mainly downwind, have been facing a series of brick walls as they have tried to make progress west-east towards the finish at the home of the Vendée Globe.

“It’s been an unconventional routing for the normal meteo movement of this course, coming from west to east,” Cammas told the Class. “This time all the meteo features have been very stable and have not moved a lot. It’s been like a series of walls in front of the competitors and they have to cross these walls.

“Sometimes they make it, and sometimes not, because the movements are very slow and you can stay in the back all the time. For sure, the first wall was five days ago and only two boats crossed the front (leader Charlie Dalin and the then second-placed skipper, Boris Herrmann) and, after that, the race was done for the winner at least.”

This morning, after seven-and-a-half days at sea, Dalin, in the centre of the racecourse on board MACIF Santé Prévoyance, has a commanding lead, with around 870 nautical miles still to sail to the Biscay coast. The big change over the last 24 hours has been the erosion of Herrmann’s position in the ranking as he has dealt with light winds trying to skirt an area of high pressure nearly 900 miles north-northwest of Dalin’s position.

The German skipper of Malizia Seaexplorer, ploughing his lone furrow, has dropped from second to 11th place, overtaken by all the boats in a tight group south of the Azores, led by Thomas Ruyant’s Vulnerable. However Herrmann is not out of the podium places just yet and has picked up the pace. This morning he was the fastest boat in the fleet, clocked at an average speed of over 22 knots, and with a reasonable downwind runway ahead of him towards the finish.

Cammas says the intense battle in the south, where the boats have been sailing round the edge of the Azores exclusion zone, is just what the skippers want in the build-up to this year’s Vendee Globe. “In terms of training, it is a very good race in the south with this group because there will be many different wind angles up to the finish,” he said.

Among the contenders in the south is Jérémie Beyou, with whom Cammas was working before moving to the America’s Cup. He has been in touch with the Charal skipper in recent days, who is just four miles behind Britain’s Sam Goodchild in third place and five behind Ruyant. “I spoke with Jérémie about how he is feeling with the boat,” said Cammas. “I think the new foils are a good step, especially downwind, which was the goal actually.”

“His morale is good,” he added, “because he is happy with the speed of the boat. But for sure he wanted to go with the first two boats and with Charlie, but he didn’t achieve that. But, for now, the match with Thomas Ruyant will be very interesting for Jérémie. They are very close and they will finish very close for sure, and he is concentrating on that.”

Whether he makes it to the podium or not, Herrmann has made another big statement in this race after finishing second in The Transat CIC behind Yoann Richomme (Paprec Arkéa). Cammas says Malizia – SeaExplorer has been a revelation this season. “I think Malizia is the big surprise of the year and the boat has become very versatile. We know it is maybe the best boat downwind in heavy air and these conditions will be very important during the Vendée Globe around the Antarctic,” he said.

Cammas’s area of speciality is identifying and executing incremental changes that improve performance, and he believes the participation of the Malizia team in last year’s Ocean Race has been key to their improvement. “I think for their confidence it is very good to have crossed the Southern Ocean already with the same boat they will use in the Vendée Globe,” he explained. “And also, the improvements they have made since The Ocean Race have been carried out in an effective way because they learned a lot during that race,” he said.

Back in the south, Cammas does not envy what he called the “high-medium” upwind challenge facing Ruyant, Goodchild *, Beyou and their pursuers, as they turn northeast towards Cape Finisterre and the Bay of Biscay. “It’s not going to be very comfortable for them,” he summarised.

*Sam Goodchild’s IMOCA VULNERABLE dismasted this afternoon. The British skipper is unhurt and is securing his boat. He is 150 miles from the island of Santa Maria in the Azores. His team TR Racing is currently studying the best solutions to bring the IMOCA safely to port.

Report by Ed Gorman

Main image © Charlie Dalin

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