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Groupama 45 : taking flight
There are some dates that are immediately etched on your memory, ones you'll remember for a long time to come. This 7 May is one such date for Franck Cammas and for Groupama sailing team with the first launch and the first flying sessions by the one-design catamaran Groupama 45, which is set to participate in the first event of the America's Cup World Series in three months' time alongside the world's top teams. Prior to this meet though, it's in Brittany that Franck Cammas and his crew will sample the delights of being airborne when they take the start of the Tour de Belle Ile.

Though the road to the America's Cup is still a long one for Team France, the path leading to the America's Cup World Series is already being carved out. The second national team, after the Britons, to receive the foils and rudders that will enable the AC45s to fly, Groupama sailing team is debuting this new configuration, which confirms the abrupt change in tone that has come about largely as a result of the last edition of the America's Cup in 2013 in San Francisco.

Since the incredible final between the Americans and New Zealanders, the engineers, the naval architects and the sailors have been working relentlessly on these foils, which are designed to keep the boats airborne and hence faster: "An increasing number of boats are using foils. That's the way things are progressing. We've been practising this type of sailing for some years now, a point reflected in our win at the last Little America's Cup with Groupama C in September 2013. We're still in the early stages of this new era. It's thrilling and it's a change of direction that you simply can't afford to miss. This is why France has to be at the next America's Cup. Our engineers are among the best in the world and we mustn't let them head overseas. We have some great cards up our sleeves".

By participating in the 6th edition of the Tour de Belle Ile, Groupama 45 will be sizing up the competition among the other flying boats, particularly those of Gitana Team, which has two multihulls in the running: a 70-foot trimaran and a 32-foot catamaran. The notable difference between these boats and that skippered by Franck Cammas: the rig. Indeed, Groupama will be propelled along by a fixed wing, whilst the Gitanas will be sporting classic sails.

It now remains to be seen what the weather has in store for the 500 boats signed up in what has become the biggest race meet in France over the years. According to the team's forecasts, the Tour de Belle Ile is likely to be contested in a powerful 20 to 25 knots of breeze and a fine 3-metre swell generated by the recent string of lows, which have been sweeping across France. Suffice to say that these conditions have been the focus of the Groupama skipper's attentions of late: "On Saturday morning, we're likely to have 15 to 20 knots of breeze, which remains manageable. In the afternoon, the wind is set to build to 20 - 25 knots. At that point it's more borderline but we should have completed the Tour de Belle Ile by then. Ideally, we'd like to do a return trip between Lorient and La Trinité in one day but that may not be possible. In that case, we'll have to drop anchor and keep two or three people aboard, even at night, so as we can be sure that the wing is free and not dragging the boat or causing her to capsize".

Alongside Cammas, the crew of Groupama 45 is keen to get going. Thierry Fouchier, Arnaud Jarlegan and Devan Le Bihan, as well as Pierre Pennec, who's standing in for Arnaud Psarofaghis, the latter otherwise engaged on Lake Geneva where he's racing a D35, are all familiarising themselves with this flying version of the AC45: "We spent two seasons on this boat in her non-flying version so we have a good foundation to work from. Despite that, the act of flying alters things aboard somewhat so we have to adapt to the situation. It's really interesting," explains Thierry Fouchier, one of the few French sailors to have won the America's Cup (in 2010 with BMW Oracle).

Set a date for Saturday then, in the bay off La Trinité sur Mer, south-west Brittany, at 10:00am, for the start of the Tour de Belle Ile. In fact the meeting will see a second Groupama boat take to the water in the hands of local skipper, Julien Villion. This will be the 40-foot Extreme 40 catamaran aboard which will be a certain Sophie de Turckheim, crew to Franck Cammas on the Nacra 17.

Photo : Yvan Zedda/Groupama
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