Franck Cammas: “I’m almost 100% focused on America’s Cup”

Continuation of our interview with Franck Cammas. After looking back last week at Charal‘s fourth place in the Transat Jacques Vabre, the sailor from Aix-en-Provence talks about the Orient Express Racing Team challenge, which is taking part from Thursday to Saturday in the second preliminary regatta of the 37th America’s Cup in Jeddah.

▶︎ As soon as you got back from Martinique, you immediately flew off to Saudi Arabia to join Orient Express Racing Team, which this Friday is 6th and last after the second day of the preliminary regatta in Jeddah. After the good results at Vilanova in September (3rd place), how would you sum up these two days of fleet racing?
Vilanova was a rather special regatta in terms of wind conditions. We finished a few legs without flying and had a bit of success. Today, we sailed in wind conditions (14-16 knots) that we’ve hardly ever encountered before, maybe three days in all, so we don’t yet have the control of the other teams ahead of us. On top of that there was a hydraulic problem, which was significant enough to degrade the performance of the guys on board, particularly the trimmers. Now, there have been some positive points, on the starts, the straights, we feel we’re making progress, even if it’s not showing up in the results. We’re going to keep working to get the boat running at 100%. There are two races left tomorrow (Saturday) and I hope we can put on a good show.

▶︎ Have you been able to follow the project in parallel with the one with Charal?
I’ve been busy, but yes, I’ve always kept in touch with the team. The guys continued to do as many outings as possible in Barcelona, they dared to sail in strong winds and heavy seas, even if it meant doing a few tricks, but that’s how you learn and gain confidence. We’d already learnt a lot at Vilanova, during the practice races and then the regattas, and one of our objectives was to get off the ground as soon as possible. I think that today we have more confidence and certainty in the way we ride the foilsat the bottom of the wind range, i.e. between 6.5 knots, the low limit for these boats, and 8.5 knots. It’s now easy to get onto the foils, which frees up your mind. It’s more in strong winds that we’re less confident at the moment.

▶︎ Have you sailed the boat?
Yes, for 30 minutes in Spain, I tore the helm out of their hands! I think I’ll be able to contribute more if I get some sailing time. In fact, that’s what I did at one time with Oracle and Luna Rossa, when I was a test pilot. It’s important for me to come aboard and understand the sensations, so that I can then talk more directly with the helmsmen and help them. In fact, I really enjoy the discussions we have with Quentin and Kevin (Delapierre and Peponnet, the two helmsmen on the AC40), we have the same mindset of always wanting to find solutions to try and go faster.


“My role will be much more
interesting with the AC75″


▶︎ And how did it feel?
It was cool, even though I struggled a bit with the buttons, you don’t want to press the wrong one (laughs). What’s amazing is that you really feel like you’re in the simulator when you’re at the helm, you don’t get any extra sensations, especially as as you’re wearing a helmet, you don’t really feel the wind or the boat’s speed. You don’t really know when you’re taking off, it’s more when you see the speed on the screen that you tell yourself you’re flying, it’s quite artificial, you rely more on the figures to know what the boat’s attitude is. Above all, you put a lot of trust in the two trimmers behind you, because if they make the slightest mistake, there’s no more rudder in the water, so no more control of the boat. The helmsmen have to be well coordinated when it comes to raising and lowering the foils during manoeuvres and the rate of turn according to the strength of the wind, and everything else is up to the trimmer at the stern. I think it takes them longer than the helmsmen to learn how to control the boat. At the helm, I didn’t find it too complicated. You certainly have a certain number of instructions to learn – height of flight, cant of the foils, ascent and descent of the foils during manoeuvres – which you pre-set according to the boat’s speed and point of sail, but it’s a routine to learn.

▶︎ What exactly is your role at this stage of the project?
I work a lot with Thierry Douillard, the team coach, on performance analysis and the observations we can make from the outside. Together we organise the training sessions, identifying what we want to test. The aim of the first few weeks of sailing was to understand the effects of each setting, then to combine them and adapt them to each phase of a regatta. We’re also analysing each manoeuvre – timing the foils up and down, pre-setting the flying height and cant – so that everything becomes a reflex in different wind conditions. The aim is to write down all these rules in what we call the playbook, along with the twenty or so button actions in all. One of my other roles is to ensure that the boat is as well prepared as possible, so we have to decide what we’re going to do about sanding the foils and adjusting the rigging. I’m here to make sure we don’t forget anything in terms of performance. The AC40 is still a one-design, so it’s not infinite, but on the big boat, there will be more freedom, it’s going to be a lot more complex and my role will be a lot more interesting.


“Three phases in the project”


▶︎ What is the current status of the project in relation to the competition?
Today, by force of circumstance, as we’ve been relieved of all the design work, because we’ve acquired the design package from Team New Zealand, our minds are focused on the AC40, whereas for the other teams, it’s not the number one objective. They’re also spending a lot of time on their AC75 and on the design of the next one. Now, in the project, there are three stages: the one we’re going through at the moment, with the one-design AC40 with autopilot, then, from the start of next year, the LEQ 12 (less or equal to 12 metres), in other words the AC40 which will become a development boat, on which we’ll be able to try out everything we want. I think that we’re going to start to identify problems that the others have certainly already seen since the previous campaign on the steering. Using the boat without an autopilot will undoubtedly be a difficult step. The final phase will be the launch of the AC75 (scheduled for May 2024), at which point the aim will be not to lose any sailing days with the fine-tuning to sail as much as possible. So we’re trying to plan things in advance, and Antoine Carraz (technical Director, who is overseeing the construction) had the good idea of making a 1:1 scale model of a foil section to anticipate any finishing problems we might encounter

▶︎ Are you following the construction of the AC75?
Today, it’s really an autonomous department, under the responsibility of Antoine, who is in charge of receiving the plans and understanding them before passing them on to the manufacturing teams. But I hope to spend more time with him to fully understand what is going to be built and to anticipate the use of the parts. What we’re doing on the AC40 and with the simulator developed by the design team is also enabling us to identify the performance niches on boats of this type.

▶︎ From now on, you’ll be focusing 100% on the Cup? Do you have any other plans for 2024?
I’m almost at 100%, yes, but my contract says 80% (laughs)! I’ve got a few small collaborations with ocean racing teams for technical development, we’ve got to talk to Charal, and otherwise, I’d like to continue sailing ETF26 with Entreprises du Morbihan, like I did this year, I’m having a great time with them!

Photo:  Martin Keruzoré / Orient Express Racing Team

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