Franck Cammas and Charles Caudrelier have been friends since their early days on the Figaro circuit 25 years ago. Franck has an in-depth knowledge of multihulls and offshore racing in particular, notably securing the Jules Verne Trophy back in 2010 in crewed format and then the singlehanded Route du Rhum aboard the same 32-metre long maxi-trimaran. On the monohull circuit, the sailor from Aix-en-Provence also won the crewed Volvo Ocean Race, teamed up with one Charles Caudrelier. That was in 2011-12 and, since this time, Franck has devoted his time to other exercises with an Olympic preparation and an America’s Cup campaign as skipper. Charles meantime has remained on a monohull, skippering his own crew in the Volvo Ocean Race in 2014-15 and then securing the win in the 2017-18 edition. Today, together at the helm of a boat designed by Guillaume Verdier with the Gitana Team design office, built at Multiplast in Vannes and launched in July 2017, the two men know just how lucky they are to helm such a machine with the support of an expert team, which has spent the past 4 years working on fine-tuning this boat, which is a true pionnier of offshore flight.
Brest Atlantiques - four weeks to complete a big Atlantic circuit
The Brest Atlantiques rounds off this morning for the Maxi Edmond de Rothschild after 29 days at sea and over 17,000 miles over the ground. The Franck Cammas / Charles Caudrelier duo, together with their media man Yann Riou, will cross the finish line this Wednesday morning at the entrance to Brest Harbour. We take the opportunity to review the last four fantastic weeks of racing.
ACT 1 - On Sunday 3 November, the initial date scheduled for the start of the Brest Atlantiques, the first autumn storm is sweeping the Breton coast. The competing giants and their crews are obliged to wait another 48 hours to let the bulk of the rough weather roll through. On Tuesday 5 November at 10:00 UTC, the competitors steal out onto the racetrack from Brest. However, the weather conditions that reign over the Chaussée de Sein will be remembered for a long time to come: 30 knots and nearly 5-metre waves. “I haven’t seen a sea like this since the South Pacific in the Volvo Ocean Race, it’s impracticable”. The first words from offshore from Yann Riou, the media man on the Maxi Edmond de Rothschild set the tone.
The Bay of Biscay is devoured in a matter of hours... That very evening on the day of the start, Cape Finisterre is already in their wake! Leading the way, François Gabart calls the tune. Second, right behind him, Franck Cammas and Charles Caudrelier take up a prudent start whilst showing that they too are a force to be reckoned with.
On 7 November, at the 03:00 UTC position report, the Maxi Edmond de Rothschild goes on the offensive. The first to put in its gybe southwards, the Cammas / Caudrelier duo move up to the head of the race. Twenty-four hours later, under the cover of darkness, as they’re passing the Cape Verde islands, the Maxi Edmond de Rothschild hits a UFO (Unidentified Floating Object) and damages her daggerboard’s lifting surface. Very swiftly, back in Lorient, a commando operation is organised to get the team to intervene as quickly as possible on the other side of the Atlantic. Bahia, the historic city associated with the Transat Jacques Vabre finish and well known to Gitana Team’s shore crew, appears to be the best option for the stopover both from a weather perspective and for practical and logistical aspects. Though deprived of some of her potential without the use of her famous ‘skate wing’, Gitana 17 remains at the front of the pack: a neat trajectory in the doldrums notably, total commitment from the two sailors to get the best out of a light and shifty breeze in the guise of a trade wind. Meantime, the crew on her closest rival - Macif – also announce that they’re experiencing difficulties after they too were involved in a collision. Like Gitana, François Gabart’s team envisages a pit stop, albeit in Rio, to repair damage to the central rudder.
On Sunday 10 November, shortly before 14:00 UTC, after 5 days and 4 hours of racing, the Maxi Edmond de Rothschild crosses the equator in what is a remarkable time, especially so in double-handed format. The weather at the time doesn’t allow for any major options and so it is that the four competing giants follow a diagonal route across to the Brazilian coast in single file. However, Gitana 17’s pit stop on the morning of 12 November will restart the race!
4,000 miles covered
Maximum speed: 34.2 knots
5 days in the lead
Ranking of the Maxi Edmond de Rothschild, on Tuesday 12 November at 11:00 UTC:
3rd / MAXI EDMOND DE ROTHSCHILD (Franck Cammas / Charles Caudrelier / Yann Riou) – 167.9 miles behind the leader – On a pit stop in Salvador de Bahia
ACT 2 - In the early hours of Tuesday 12 November, Cleon Peterson’s warriors make their entrance into the Bay of All Saints! It’s strange to celebrate the first week of racing with a pit stop! But the timeout is necessary and the shore crew on site have it perfectly under control. “We weighed up the pros and cons with Marcel van Triest! What the stoppage cost in terms of miles, how much of the racetrack is still to be covered as we’ve only done a quarter of the course, the upcoming weather and of course safety. Having looked into all that, we believe that the best compromise is to make this stop so the boat can get back out there and race at her full potential”, explained the skipper of Edmond de Rothschild.
After just a dozen hours or so dockside, Charles Caudrelier and Franck Cammas head back out onto the racetrack. Back in the role of the hunter, they are in third place and have conceded over 160 miles to their rivals. It’s a tough moment in the race for the two sailors, who have put in such a lot of work over the first week to get in front, but the two men leave Bahia brimming with energy and with a Maxi firing on all cylinders again. Indeed, the shore crew has been able to repair the lower section of the damaged daggerboard by replacing the appendage’s elevator in record time.
However, the renewed momentum and euphoria of returning to the fray is quickly brought to a crushing halt offshore of the Brazilian coast where the Cammas / Caudrelier duo find themselves having to negotiate a windless transition zone that is longer than forecast. Off Porto Seguro, the two sailors can only look on helplessly as their rivals make good their escape and in the space of a day they lament a deficit of over 400 miles! However sailing is a sport synonymous with patience and on the grand scale of such machines, 400 miles is in no way damning, especially when they are combined with a sequence of other events in the race.
Macif’s stoppage has been on the cards for several days, but whilst the team is envisaging a 3-4 hour stop in Rio de Janeiro to replace her central rudder, ultimately François Gabart and Gwenolé Gahinet are in the pits for over 20 hours. During this time, as she’s on a course to the south-west with a good lead, the crew of Sodebo Ultim announce that they’re “turning back to preserve the boat as a meaty depression is deepening to their south”.
With Gitana 17 rounding the Cagarras Islands in 3rd position a few hours earlier, there’s a real mustering of the troops at the foot of the Corcovado, with Christ the Redeemer looking down on them all in the bay of Rio. After covering 6,000 miles, it’s game on once more and it’s back at the head of the fleet that the Maxi Edmond de Rothschild sets a course for South Africa and the next passage point of Cape Town from the evening of 14 November. “It is the circumstances of our adversaries that have enabled us to move back into the lead”, noted Franck Cammas.
The 3,200 miles between Brazil and South Africa were set to serve up a fine and rapid session of slipping along downwind… the weather has other ideas. The Edmond de Rothschild duo, like their three rivals, has to contend with a rather cantankerous secondary front that has escaped from the South American continent, as the sailor from Aix-en-Provence admits: “We have 48hrs of close-hauled sailing in difficult wind and sea conditions. It’s not great! Right now, there’s not really a window for making fast headway towards Cape Town. We’re having to endure this NE’ly wind, which is hampering our progress and above all generating seas that we’re having to punch into which is very unpleasant for the men and the boats.”
However, it is in these tough and windy conditions that the Maxi Edmond de Rothschild will show her true potential. Slipping better through the water than her rivals thanks to her ability to fly, the Verdier design is able to maintain high average speeds whilst the others have no other option than to stall.
Unfortunately for the sailors of Gitana Team, the weather scenario in the South Atlantic, with the Saint Helena High positioned a long way south and a fairly high ice exclusion zone, will not enable her to make good her escape and really transform the advantage offered to them by their machine. Indeed, on rounding the high pressure, whilst Gitana 17 has to link together the gybes as soon as she gets past Gough Island, her rivals are able to trace a relatively straight-line course and thus make up a large part of their deficit. Prior to attacking the climb up to Cape Town and leaving the roaring forties where they’ve been making headway over recent days, the Brest Atlantiques fleet is grouped into less than 300 miles!
It’s worth noting at this point that on 18 November, Sodebo Ultim suffers major damage to her starboard float after colliding with a UFO and pulls out her float rudder. Still in the race, Thomas Coville and Jean-Luc Nélias will have to stop off in Cape Town to assess the damage in more detail.
3,323.4 miles covered
Maximum speed: 36 knots
5 days in the lead
Ranking of the Maxi Edmond de Rothschild, on Tuesday 19 November at 11:00 UTC:
1st / MAXI EDMOND DE ROTHSCHILD (Franck Cammas / Charles Caudrelier / Yann Riou) - Distance to the goal: 6,452.5 miles – Average speed over the past 24 hours: 20.6 knots
Act 3 - After the series of gybes undertaken along the edge of the ice zone, Gitana 17 is the first to hang a left for the climb up to South Africa, where they’re expected in the bay of Cape Town for the second course mark. The sailors, who have already been welcomed by this dramatic backdrop of Table Mountain on several occasions in the Volvo Ocean Race, this time make landfall after a memorable tack at 40 knots on flat seas and at sunset. Dazzling!
To validate this second chunk of the Brest Atlantiques, the Maxi Edmond de Rothschild has to round Robben Island but the exercise doesn’t prove that easy as the wind is still very unstable, erratic even. It’s a passage that is orchestrated to perfection once again by Marcel van Triest. The men breathe in the aromas of land and leave the lights of Cape Town at the head of the fleet. Meantime Macif, which is positioned 90 miles astern, makes a brief pit stop and Actual Leader makes the most of the opportunity to sneak through into second place. Sodebo, which lost a piece of her starboard float following a collision in the middle of the South Atlantic, also makes a stop. Following more detailed investigations by her shore crew, the foil is found to be damaged too and their retirement beckons.
There are just three trimarans left on the racetrack in the Brest Atlantiques as they begin the final act, which kicks off with a passage along a fabulous, if rather unfamiliar zone for offshore racers, along the coast of Namibia. “It’s nice. You begin to search for weather stations in Namibia in a bid to decipher the effects of the different sites,” explains Marcel van Triest. Nevertheless, coastal navigation is somewhat stressful for the men with the presence of numerous whales, shoals of fish of all kinds and several dozen fishing vessels. One night, the crew of Gitana 17 has a big scare as it crosses the path of a shoal of fish. These are painful times where they really believe the Brest Atlantiques might be over for them… however, the boat is fine and their circumnavigation of the Saint Helena High can continue.
The latter has returned to her usual spot, forcing the Maxi Edmond de Rothschild to exploit a corridor of breeze along the African coast so as to hunt down the northern limit of the zone of high pressure in what is still a very light trade wind. Time drags… as Macif shifts over to the west at 90 degrees to the direct route. “It’s an option that we never even considered,” explains the router for Gitana Team. On board, the sailors take care of the boat, which still bears the scars of the boisterous passage across the South Atlantic, each of them doing some DIY to enable the machine to attack the finish in the best possible condition.
3,097.8 miles covered
Maximum speed: 33.7 knots
7 days in the lead
Ranking of the Maxi Edmond de Rothschild, on Tuesday 26 November at 11:00 UTC:
1st / MAXI EDMOND DE ROTHSCHILD (Franck Cammas / Charles Caudrelier / Yann Riou - Distance to the goal: 3,328.3 miles – Average speed over the past 24 hours: 16.7 knots
ACT 4 - In the fourth and final week of racing, Marcel Van Triest works with the crew to line up the best possible trajectory for the climb back up the North Atlantic. The doldrums is looming once again and the router, who’s an expert on the zone, has a very precise strategy. The Maxi Edmond de Rothschild begins by crossing the South Atlantic, from east to west, on a course towards Brazil… rather than Europe. In reality, the sailors are targeting a corridor through the doldrums at 23degrees west, which is much further east than the traditional passage at between 28and 30 degrees. Actual Leader is 350 miles in their wake while Macif has positioned itself even further over towards Brazil and is 800 miles off the pace. “This passage at 23 degrees west is enabling us to have a very good angle for the section between the equator and Cape Verde,” explains the router.
The doldrums is done with in a flash and the climb involves a single tack. Gitana 17 is making headway at speeds of ‘just’ 20 to 25 knots, but she’s tirelessly stretching away from her pursuers. As they make the Azores, the perfect trajectory takes the sailors through the heart of the archipelago, to the east of Terceira. The aim is to position themselves ahead of a front, which finally enables the crew to pick up the pace towards Brest. Meantime, their two pursuers are having to go right around the Azores High and though they are in contact with one another, they are now in a totally different weather system to that of the leader, who will complete the course with a lead that stands at 1,800 miles this morning.
“ This morning I pulled on my foulies for the first time since Cape Town. It’s also the first time since the southern latitudes that we’ve been sailing in a depression, finally ahead of a front. We’ve circumnavigated a lot of anticyclones of late... We passed the Azores in the early hours. It’s not too cold yet, but you can sense that we’re entering the European winter. The sea hasn’t been very smooth since we passed the Azores. We’re not going to go on the attack because we want to preserve the boat and above all we now have a very comfortable lead over our pursuers to make that feasible for us”, explained Charles Caudrelier.
“When you manage to get an anticyclone between you and your rivals after a few tricky sections and several squeezes of the accordion, that’s not bad going”, admitted Marcel van Triest a few hours before crossing the finish line.
3,017.4 miles covered
Maximum speed: 33.5 knots
7 days in the lead
Ranking of the Maxi Edmond de Rothschild, on Tuesday 3 December at 11:00 UTC:
1st / MAXI EDMOND DE ROTHSCHILD (Franck Cammas / Charles Caudrelier / Yann Riou) - Distance to the goal: 337.3 miles – Average speed over the past 24 hours: 30.4 knots