Finishing 4th last Sunday in the Imoca Transat Jacques Vabre Normandie-Le Havre with Jérémie Beyou on Charal, Franck Cammas took off on Wednesday for Jeddah (Saudi Arabia), where the second Preliminary Regatta of the 37th America’s Cup kicks off on 29 November. Between two planes, the man from Aix-en-Provence spoke at length to Tip & Shaft. Friday 24th of november we publish the first part of the interview, devoted to the transatlantic race; the second, on the Orient Express Racing Team challenge, will be published Friday.
▶︎ How would you sum up the Transat Jacques Vabre?
Jérémie and I didn’t set out to finish fourth, but given what happened to us a week before the finish, when we lost our mast head zero (large gennaker), we couldn’t have hoped for much better. After that, I think that even without that, we lacked the speed downwind compared to For People, which was quite phenomenal – I hadn’t noticed so many differences during the training sessions before the transatlantic race. Despite that, I think we’ve managed to adapt the boat better and better with our J0 (smaller headsail) to get back to fourth place, so it’s not too bad. And strategically, we took the southern route like 90% of the favourites. The exit from the first front had cooled everyone down, it had been violent. So it was a wise option, a losing one at the start, but an increasingly winning one later on, because the northern route was more complicated, with transition zones and calms, and also strong winds and seas, while the southern route was going faster than expected.
▶︎ Can you tell us about what happened to you on this mast head zero and how its loss handicapped you?
We had a problem with the cable on the second night in the trade winds. At that point, either we changed the cable, but that meant stopping and losing 60 miles, or we used another sail. As we already felt that they (For People and Paprec Arkéa) had a speed that we couldn’t reach with our mast head zero, we decided to change with the J0. And in the end, even though this sail was too small, we made progress in using it, we were able to match the others from 18 knots of wind, and we also managed to find some small adjustments on the foils. However, when the wind dropped to 15 knots, we had more difficulties. We were maintaining good speeds, but we had very bad angles, losing 4 or 5 degrees of angle at each gybe, which meant a lot of loss in VMG. Now, the positive point is that it forced us to work in a degraded mode, which ended up becoming good, which means that I’m convinced that the boat can be fast downwind, just as she is at the other angles.
“Thomas Ruyant has
the magic formula for transatlantic races”
▶︎ How was For People superior?
He has a clearly atypical sail configuration: he has designed his J2 and J3 so that, downwind in the trade winds, the two sails work together, in addition to the quad that he already used two years ago – it’s a large J0 that attaches to the outrigger. The result is a ‘multihull sailing mode’, with a very closed apparent wind angle, which works very well up to 22-23 knots of breeze. For a few years now, Thomas Ruyant has been showing that he’s excellent in these conditions. He’s typed his boat for this and he loses very little in other conditions, so well done to him! You have to remember that two years ago, he won with the second finishing 24 hours later, not with the same hull, but with this sail configuration that he masters very well in the trade winds. He clearly has the magic formula for transatlantic races. The 100 mile gap with Paprec Arkéa, which has the same hull, is only due, in my opinion, to the sail configuration, as we can also see on For The Planet (ex LinkedOut) which, with an ‘old’ hull but the same sail setting, comes a close second, at times maintaining incredible average speeds. Thomas has been winning three transatlantic races with the same solutions and he’s showing the way: I don’t think we’ve all reacted enough or identified well enough where and how to win a transatlantic race. We really need to concentrate on downwind performance in 18-22 knots of wind and stop putting too much weight on minority angles. Yes, it hurts to lose for half a day because of a choice of sails, but if you’re winning for the next seven days, you shouldn’t hesitate.
▶︎ Why didn’t you have a quad aboard Charal, which could have helped you in the trade winds?
On the ‘normal’ route of the Transat Jacques Vabre [the course originally planned, it was finally reduced following the nine-day shift in the start, editor’s note], there was a long section after the islands in Brazil where you flirted with full downwind in 8 to 12 knots of wind, a range of 4 knots in which the spinnaker was quite essential. We’d also taken the Fro (a gennaker bigger than the J2) which, according to the routing at the start, we should have needed for ten hours over the whole race after the first front, at reaching in 15-18 knots of wind. In the end, we weren’t able to take it out as the sea state didn’t allow us, so we did everything under J2, trying not to break the boat. On the downwind section, we were hoping to do everything with the mast head zero, so we didn’t take the quad, which was a mistake and it’s regrettable because we had the cards in our hands to perform well.
“I’d love to put
together a complete Imoca project”
▶︎ So is it possible to catch up?
Of course we can! And above all, we can’t draw any conclusions from the Jacques Vabre with a view to the Vendée Globe, because the tradewind section is proportionally very short compared to the round the world race, you have 90% of the route without tradewinds. At the moment, apart from Malizia, which has shown some fine capabilities with her hull, none of the new hulls have yet been sailed downwind around Antarctica. Everything becomes much more complex when you’re sailing at 25-35 knots in heavy seas, conditions in which you can’t attack in the same way. Today, we don’t know how these boats will perform in the Vendée Globe, it’s likely to be a bit of a surprise for everyone, even if the new hulls seem to be better designed to handle the seas than those of the previous generation.
▶︎ What was it like living with Jérémie at sea?
There were no surprises, as we’re two fairly studious and sometimes quiet guys on the boat, so we didn’t go off on any great lyrical or philosophical flights of fancy when we passed the baton to each other in our watches, it was more a case of confronting ideas on strategy, trimming… The tradewind section was a bit long, but otherwise we had some really good times, particularly at the start when we were in the lead without necessarily pushing the boat.
▶︎ Will you continue to work with him until the Vendée Globe?
We haven’t discussed it much yet, but I’d certainly be interested in continuing to help him to improve the boat’s performance.
▶︎ And could you be interested in an Imoca project, particularly with a view to the 2028 Vendée Globe?
Yes. The knowledge I’ve acquired during my two years’ experience now gives me a good vision, so I’d love to be involved in a complete project, which is something I’d be very excited about. After that, sailing isn’t easy and the skippers are going to suffer in the Vendée Globe. The boats are technically very interesting, but you have to be careful that it doesn’t become too difficult to sail them. There have been discussions to find technical solutions, and the T-rudders are one of them, and we know that they work in other series. For the time being, the majority of racers are reluctant to take this, but the Imoca class has to ensure that skippers don’t lose interest in the class if the boats are too unpleasant to live.
Photo: Maxime Mergalet