Frustrating, spun-out and at times downright painful, Groupama’s offshore debut in the Volvo Ocean Race was a tough experience for Franck Cammas’ team but a rewarding one all the same.
A huge roar broke out from the hundreds crowding the dock as Groupama’s bow finally came into view under Table Mountain in the moonlight on Tuesday, more than 24 days after the team left Alicante back on November 5.
Children and wives skipped across the pontoon and were soon in the arms of men who barely had time to tie the boat down before being embraced. Helmsman Thomas Colville, sporting a new beard, tossed his young daughter high in the air before taking his wife in his arms in a hug lasting a full minute.
It had been achingly slow over an almost windless last two days and nights, like being punished for a crime they couldn’t remember committing as Brad Marsh memorably put it.
But while they were three days behind Leg 1 winners Team Telefónica and two behind second-placed CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand a podium finish was still quite an achievement.
Cammas and his crew sported grins as wide as the Gibraltar Strait as they hugged family and friends and reflected on a first leg that turned on their decision to hug the African coast when their rivals were heading west to the Canaries.
It turned out to be the wrong call from Cammas and navigator Jean-Luc Nélias, one that tested the resolve of the sailors as a team and the patience of all as individuals.
“In these difficult conditions, alone and behind, it’s difficult for a group to keep its motivation and to keep pushing the boat yet that’s what we’ve been doing,” said Cammas as he considered the prospect of a leisurely dinner eaten on dry land for the first time in well over three weeks.
“When we’re going neck and neck with the others in future legs we will gain a lot from this first leg.
“As far as the decision process is concerned, the navigator and I took them together and we both take responsibility for it. We agreed on the first part of the leg.”
With three teams forced to retire from the leg, the bad luck with the weather following that joint decision from Cammas and Nélias did not spoil the overall picture too badly.
The first French team to contest the race in 17 years are third on the overall leaderboard with 22 points – within striking distance of Telefónica (31) and CAMPER (29).
The three teams that failed to finish Leg 1 look a long way back from that, with Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing on 6, PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG on 5 and Team Sanya on 3.
“I think that honestly we can be pleased,” said the skipper. “Third is not a bad result. Perhaps what is frustrating is that clearly we would have preferred to compete for longer and more closely with the others, which wasn’t the case and I think everyone was frustrated.
“Due to the weather we raced through the entire Southern Atlantic without hope of catching the others. When you enter this type of race it’s to battle every day and every moment.”
Cammas is clearly eager to do just that starting on December 10 and the second in-port race.
Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing and Team Sanya have set themselves seven-day deadlines to get their boats ready to sail again once they arrive in Cape Town.
Both teams, forced to retire from Leg 1 after suffering damage inside a brutal first 24 hours, expect the ships containing their prized Volvo Open 70s to arrive in Cape Town on Wednesday.
For each of them, the target to get back sailing is just one week later, December 7.
Ian Walker, skipper of Abu Dhabi’s Azzam, arrived in Cape Town last Saturday, just in time to congratulate Team Telefónica on their Leg 1 victory. Walker said he and his teammates were feeling unusually well fed for this stage of the race and were itching to get started on Leg 2 from Cape Town to their home port of Abu Dhabi having now put the first night dismasting behind them.
“Back here in Cape Town we are fully focused on making sure we are 100 per cent ready for the restart in order to do as well as we can on the leg to our home port,” Walker said in a blog posted on the Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing website.
“The team have all regrouped now and we have the advantage of being fresh and still at a good weight – not living on freeze dried food for three weeks is a bit of a relief.
“As a group we have decided to stop looking back over the ‘incident’ and to focus only on moving forwards.
“The ship ‘Red Cedar’, bringing Azzam to Cape Town, is on time and due in on Wednesday morning. All being well we will be sailing by December 7 with two days training before the pro-am race.
“We would love to get back into the race with another in-port win.”
Team Sanya’s schedule is remarkably similar in terms of timing, though the problem with the boat is very different.
They expect Sanya to arrive at the commercial port at 1000 on Wednesday and over the following week they will cut out the broken section of the bow and replace it with the new piece built in Cape Town.
All being well, that will be completed by Friday, leaving time for the section to be repainted and finished and the boat to be reassembled before re-launching on Wednesday.
The second in-port race will take place on Saturday, December 10 at 1500 local time (1300 UTC) 24-hours ahead of the start of Leg 2 the following day.