In the last six months of 2006, the ocean racing news was dominated by big multihulls and race dramas.

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JULY

There were celebrations in Lorient, as Franck Cammas’ maxi- catamaran, Groupama 3, was christened. A large crowd turned out to watch TV personality  Isabelle Giordano - the godmother - and champion skier Antoine Dénériaz - the godfather - break the traditional champagne bottle on the central hull.

It was another maxi-multihull that was to dominate the July news though. Bruno Peyron’s catamaran, Orange II, the boat whose records Groupama 3 had been built to beat, left New York for an assault on the trans-Atlantic record, the day after Groupama 3’s christening.

One day later, after only 22 hours 30 mins of  sailing, Peyron and crew had  beaten their own record of 706 miles in 24 hours and had covered 123 nm more than Atlantic record holder Steve Fossett had achieved at the same hour! It was just the first of a truly remarkable series of records. A few hours later, having touched 37 knots at times, Orange II had taken the 24 hour record to over 750 miles and was closing fast on the position Fossett had reached after 36 hours at sea.

The next day, despite having been slowed by fog, the giant catamaran had passed the halfway mark of the trans-Atlantic crossing in 46 hours 30 mins and raised the 24 hour record to 766 miles. Peyron was sure the boat was capable of even more, but it was not to be;we learned that the boat had collided with some objec, which had taken a chunk out of a rudder.

The following day Peyron became concerned about the real possibility of losing a rudder and slowed his giant catamaran down, saying in an e-mail “We have backed off, because if we lose one rudder and the other corkscrews it could be fatal. At 35 knots, we would go about in 20 seconds under gennaker and that would almost certainly mean capsizing! It is now better to be prudent, rather than attack, so we will try to get to the end by managing the situation.”

Peyron’s idea of “backing off” isn’t quite the same as most peoples’. To him it means keeping the speed down to about 27 knots and, for a while, it looked like a sub 4 day crossing was still possible. That was before the damaged port rudder began to delaminate on the leading edge, thus putting an increased strain on the starboard rudder. Forced to take a longer route, to ease the strain on the port rudder, Peyron said wryly “If we lose both rudders, we won’t get there and you will have to come and get us, because we didn’t bring any oars.”

orange-finish.jpgHe did get there, ghosting over the finish line at the Lizard in a time of 4 days 8 hours 23 minutes 54 seconds, crossing at an average speed of 28 knots and taking more than 9 hours off the previous record! Afterwards, Bruno Peyron shared his thoughts about the record and the future. His immediate, ruefully smiling, feeling was “A mix of satisfaction and frustration. We lost 6 to 8 hours – at least 6 to 8 hours, with that collision, so that is frustrating. We are all a bit tired, but that’s normal. The spirits are good though. It could have spoiled things when we hit something, demoralised everyone, but it didn’t. The reverse in fact, it seemed to make everyone more determined to give it their all and doing your utmost is a good feeling.”

The 24 hour record? “We broke that record despite having to make twenty, or so, manoeuvres during the 24 hours. So yes, we were the first to put the record above 750 nm, but we can do better. We could have done better than 767, but for a bit of ice.” A 4 day crossing, is that possible? ”The answer is a categorical, YES. After the first 24 hours, we realised from our route planning that we could get under 4 days. Then we had the collision with the UFO, probably a bit of ice and that was that. So yes, I say again Absolutely yes.” What about a solo 24 hour record? “I enjoy solo sailing; if you do well it’s your achievement and if you don’t it’s your fault, so yes I would like to try for the 600 nm solo with Orange II.”

 

AUGUST

Again, it was a big multi that hit the August ocean headlines. Setting out from south of the Isle of Wight, Thomas Coville took 6 days, 6 hours, 40 minutes and 31 seconds to complete the 1787 miles around England, Ireland and Scotland, in his 60 foot trimaran Sodeb’O. When he crossed the finishing line, on August 14, Coville broke Jean-Luc Van Den Heede’s record of 7 days, 8 hours and 47 minutes, set in 2005 with his 25 metre aluminium monohull Adrien. Coville improved on the record by 1 day, 2 hours and 7 minutes.

That very same day, Jonny Malbon - standing in for Brian Thompson - took another Round Britain and Ireland record, when he won the race of that name and claimed the Royal Ocean Racing Club record for the fastest time in the history of that race.
The Open 60 crossed the finish line off Cowes, Isle of Wight, at 10:29 pm, after completing the 1,800 mile course in 7 days, 4 hours and 29 minutes.

 

SEPTEMBER

The first ocean racing news of the month was not at all good. Challenge Business Chairman, Sir Chay Blyth, announced, on September 8, that the Global Challenge Round the World Yacht Race, due to be run in 2008/09, would be postponed after being unable to secure a title sponsor. The race had been unique, being the only race around the world “the wrong way” ie. against the prevailing winds and currents.

The Volvo Ocean Race organisers had better news to share, on September 13, when Ericsson Racing Team was confirmed as the first official entry in the 2008-09 event.

5 days later the second official entry was confirmed as the Mean Machine syndicate, under the leadership of Dutchman Peter de Ridder. He said “We are aiming to have the budget to allow us to have the very best design team, the best sail development programme and the best support team. We don’t want a ‘rock star’ crew; we want the best”.

Francis Joyon had good news to announce too. “I remain faithful to my philosophy.” said Francis Joyon, when revealing details of his new boat “so IDEC is a simple boat.” The first man to sail round the world solo, in under 80 days (72 days and 22 hours), wants reliability above all, as confirmed by Nigel Irens and Benoît Cabaret, the designers of the new trimaran. “Francis is not a man of gadgets, he wants a boat that suits his image, i.e. solid, powerful and without frills. The final form of IDEC fills these criteria.”

 

OCTOBER

Tony Bullimore, finally, left Qatar for Hobart and his round-the world record start, saying “The delays over the last 7 weeks caused by last minute additions to logos on the sails, have not been all bad news. They have put the start of this record back until November – Spring time in the Southern hemisphere. Then the weather will be better than if I had set out during the Southern winter months.

Jan Berent Heukensfeldt Jansen, Managing Director of TEAM ABN AMRO announced they would not be in the next Volvo, saying: “The Volvo Ocean Race has been a great marketing platform for us and its impact will continue long into the future. We entered the Volvo Ocean Race as a three year, one-off campaign to meet specific objectives, promoting the unity and strength of the ABN AMRO brand to a global audience. We did everything we could to win the race, with a combination of teamwork and professionalism.”

 

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