Franck Cammas has prevailed against adversity before, but his attempt to return to sailing’s pinnacle event, after almost losing his foot in a gruesome accident last year, may be the worst he’s faced yet. Unable to properly coach his team for the Louis Vuitton America’s Cup World Series or continue his campaign for the Rio Olympics in the Nacra 17, Cammas has another worry: how to make up for a multimillion-dollar budget shortfall for Groupama Team France’s America’s Cup campaign. Despite all this, Cammas retains a stoic face and positive public demeanor.
“It is just life. Sometimes you don’t have a choice,” says Cammas. “You just have to find a way to bounce back.”
The Volvo Ocean Race-winning skipper had managed to avoid major injury throughout his career. His luck ran out one afternoon in December near Quiberon, France, while practicing on Groupama Team’s GC32 catamaran. He fell from the helm as the boat was foiling at a speed of between 32 and 38 knots. The sharp, thin rudder almost severed his foot. He was rescued and airlifted to a hospital in Nantes. Cammas claims he felt everything before anesthesia.
He doesn’t dwell on the incident and considers it to be a freak accident that no safety procedure would have prevented. Sailors fall overboard and occasionally get injured. Swim or win, he says — it’s that simple.
He is, however, unsure of how the injury will affect his sailing abilities in the long term. “It will take a while before I can walk and run like I was able to before,” says Cammas, “but on a boat you’re not running all of the time, either.”
Soon after the accident, Cammas reprogrammed his life to prepare the best way he could. He charged ahead, knowing each day would bring him closer to sailing again. He undertook regular five-hour physical therapy sessions at a rehab clinic near Lorient, exercising with his Bionic Man-like cast on an anti-gravity treadmill.
Unable to train with Groupama Team France or even observe his team from a RIB, Cammas instead used the time to apply his engineering talents onshore. “I was able to focus more with the design team,” he says. “I really learned a lot more about how boat development works, which will help me manage the sailing better. I’m definitely better able to make design decisions as a skipper.”
Cammas also says he has devoted more time to overseeing Groupama’s foil development and electronic and hydraulic systems. “Much of it comes down to developing better algorithms,” says Cammas, who is now able to drill into the nitty-gritty of boat design in a way only engineers can.
During the ACWS in Oman in February, Cammas resumed observing his team from a RIB and was expected to begin sail training again. Despite a 20 percent shortage in the team’s 25 million euro budget, he says there’s enough funding to continue. In the worst case, he says, certain luxuries may go away, such as traveling funds for certain staff members and hospitality services at World Series events. He says that the campaign, however, has enough money to race. Groupama Team France may not be a serious contender in this or next year’s Cup races, but Cammas is thinking well beyond.
“France will be there for the greatest of all races in 2020 and the one after that,” he says. “In the decades to come, we are placing our stake in this most famous race, which dates back to 1851. Nothing is going to stop that.”