Groupama is the likely favorite to win the Volvo Ocean Race in early July with a current 23-point lead over second-place PUMA–but Franck Cammas is hardly ready to declare victory just yet. The French skipper says many things could still go wrong before he and Groupama become the second French skipper and team, respectively, to take the trophy since the first around-the-world race (the Whitbread Round the World Yacht Race) began in 1974. _ _
The main issue is that the Lorient-to-Galway course during the last leg will be very short, which means there is much less room for error, Cammas says.
“If we lose time at the beginning, you can be last. If that were to happen en route to Galway, that is, if we make the wrong routing choice based on wrong assessments of the weather, then it will be difficult to make up for that mistake,” Cammas said. “The shorter the leg, the greater the risk we have of finishing last.”
And yet, with a 23-point lead, Groupama would have to flounder in the two In-Port Races and the final leg of the race. Second-place PUMA would have to win all three races if Groupama were to falter in order to take the trophy. All Groupama has to do is to place within the top three of the Lorient-Galway leg to declare victory.
Cammas also said that he would adopt a conservative sailing strategy during the Lorient-Galway leg, compared to the more radical risks he took when sailing between Lisbon and Lorient last week. During what was probably the closest leg in the history of the race with the leading boats often sailing within sight of each other after the Azores, Cammas acknowledged that he took major risks.
Averaging 21-25 knots Thursday night after losing about 10 miles due to a sail-lock malfunction that had to be fixed, Groupama took second-place from PUMA and was closing in on Telefonica’s lead before Telefonica suffered significant rudder breakages that same night. But Groupama could have easily seen breakages as well, Cammas acknowledged. He said that he took the biggest gamble the entire race during the last 24 hours of the leg when he kept the larger fractional sail hoisted (Camper and PUMA scaled down to J2 and J4 sails, respectively) with wind speeds between 40-50 knots and large wave conditions. While running with the wind under a larger fractional mainsail at only one reef, the boat broached four times before reaching Lorient on Friday, but there were no breakages.
“We were really on the razor’s edge,” Cammas said, while noting that Groupama’s strategy will be much more low-key going forward. “Let’s just say that we will adopt a more defensive strategy.”