Big green giant

Editor James Boyd takes a sail on board Franck Cammas' incredible new Groupama III

Thursday July 27th 2006, Author: James Boyd, Location: France
Since the demise of Loick Peyron's Fujicolor campaign after the disastrous 2002 Route du Rhum in 2002 few have come close to matching Franck Cammas' Groupama trimarans on the ORMA/MultiCup circuit. Groupama 1 was hard to beat in the 2003 season and since the launch of the new Groupama 2, the only new 60ft tri to be built since 2002, Cammas has been all but invincible.

Thus it was with high expectations that thedailysail pitched up at the team's base within the giant Nazi-built concrete submarine silos in Lorient, Brittany to touch, step on board, snoop around and ultimately sail on the latest offering from Cammas' team - a 105ft state of the art trimaran, unconfined by any rules and a vessel designed to take on the fastest offshore race boat in the world - Bruno Peyron's maxi-cat Orange II.

Launched just six weeks ago Groupama III represents Cammas' first step into the world of G-class maxi-multihulls. It should be emphasised that despite the present decline of the 60ft trimaran circuit the launch of this boat does not mark the end of Groupama's participation in the MultiCup circuit. Indeed Cammas views it as filling a gap over the class' quiet winter months. The boat was designed by trimaran experts Marc van Peteghem and Vincent Lauriot Prevost who designed the previous Groupama trimarans, with additional input from Martin Fisher, Herve Devaux and Guillaume Verdier. Construction was carried out by Gilles Ollier's company Multiplast who have built nearly all these large multihulls.

Compared to the 60ft long trimarans Cammas has sailed for almost a decade now, the new three-huller is obviously substantially longer, albeit small compared to the 120 footers Steve Fossett's PlayStation and Orange IIthe present holder of the 'big three': Jules Verne Trophy and the west to east Transatlantic and 24 hour records. It is also a different concept from Olivier de Kersauson's Geronimo, until now the only G-class trimaran. In comparison Groupama III is very much more a scaled-up ORMA 60, more powerful for her size, with a larger beam to length ratio as well as some, but not all, of the go-faster gizmos of the 60s.

Standing with the massive concrete submarine silos behind us trying to keep our tongues in when we first see Cammas' new weapon, our first impression is that compared to Orange II the boat is more Ferrari than hot rod pantechnican. This is born out when we are told the weight - in Jules Verne Trophy trim (ie she is lighter now) the boat is expected to be just 18 tonnes, whereas the larger Orange 2 is around the 32 tonne mark. Aside from the way she floats evidence of the lengths the team has gone to to shed weight is that little fairing work above the water line has been carried out - the orientation of the laminate is clearly visible through the 28kg of paint used on her 700sqm of topside and deck.

Compared to an ORMA 60 the boat does not have the same extreme dimensions. Her beam is 22.5m or a beam to length ratio of 70% compared to 100% or more or less square for the Groupama II 60. Nor is her sail area as extreme. In fact her sail area is almost exactly the same as the first generation Ollier G-Class cats like Club Med, Orange I, etc.

All important, it has been discovered with these large multihulls, is freeboard, particularly at the bow. The main speed limitation of the first generation Ollier cats is when the forward cross beam starts to bury in waves. As a result on Orange II the freeboard at the bow was raised by 0.8m to 3.3m allowing both better safety, but also for the crew to drive the boat harder in waves. This formula clearly works and is why Bruno Peyron's big cat now holds the big three records in sailing and many of her crew feel she has considerably more potential to show yet, with talk of not just 800 mile days but 830, 840 ones being possible ..and just when the monohull world thought they were catching up...

While the forward beam is an issue for big catamarans, trimarans have their forward beam much further aft. In addition on Groupama III the freeboard of the boat is substantially increased compared to their 60. They have raised the freeboard of the front crossbeam to 1.7m but whether this is enough to prevent slamming remains to be seen - at present they are taking their time to work the boat up and have not been out in more than 20 knots of wind.

With any multihull capsize is an inherent risk and to prevent this the most noticable aspect of the big green trimaran is how dramatically trimmed aft she is, in particular how far back in the boat the mast is stepped. On the recent ORMA 60s the beams have an X-configuration with an additional C-shaped beam slung off the back beam to carry the circular main sheet track and enclosing the aft end of the elliptical-shaped cockpit. Groupama III also has this beam configuration except that there is a much larger gap between her X-beams. Instead of the mast being stepped where the forward beam joins the main sail - as it is with the 60s - the mast is midway between where the beams join the hull. This also simplifies the engineering of the boat so that the robust structure of the beam-main hull connection is kept separated from the structure for the mast step. The overall effect is that the bow has a stern down-bow up trim (with 2 tonnes of water ballast in the aft end of the main hull to accentuate this further) and we suspect the crew will be moving weight forward to maximise waterline length when sailing upwind.

In the middle of the northern Europe heatwave we hop on board Groupama III with Cammas and his crew. Few of his regular sailing team are on board. The sailing team is still being finalised but will include navigator Marcel van Triest, his regular right hand man Franck Proffit, piratical figure of multihull veteran Loick le Mignon and the highly experienced Jacques Caraes and boat captain Pascal Blouin. We can expect to see many old faces from the French multihull world making up the rest of the big tri's crew of 10. Instead many of her shore team and supplier are on board for this trial phase of the program, including sailing making legend Jean-Baptiste Levaillant from the Incidences loft in La Rochelle.

Groupama III is fitted with a very large diesel engine capable of shifting her through the water at 12 knots, but the boat is geared up with a removable companionway and opening in her doghouse so that the engine can be lifted out with relative ease for record attempts. A separate generator fitted with a large alternator and pump for the water maker hides beneath the cabin sole down below. Despite the engine a couple of RIBs are on stand by to help ease us away from the dock.

While the elliptical shape of the cockpit is similar to the arrangement on Cammas' 60 its layout is very different. While the 60 has a nice steering position with a seat, tiller and spray dodger at each corner of the ellipse at the highest point of the aft beam arch, Groupama III has a wheel mounted further inboard on the back of the aft beam. A spray dodger may be fitted protecting this position in the future. Generally the cockpit encircled by waste high beams and an additional guard rail at the back feels one of the safest we've been on.

Further inboard from the wheels on top of the aft beam are two man-sized carbon Harken 1130 winches each side of the dog house for handling all the cordage heading aft along the deck of the main hull....and there is a huge amount of this including lines running aft from the foredeck and even the control lines for the foils in the floats which run on a circuitous route along the aft face of the forward beam then back to the cockpit. In fact the area between the mast and the aft beam ressembles a cat's cradle or the innards of a grand piano with all the lines running on top of the deck as this is a lighter solution than building below deck channels. The exception is the mainsheet as this runs aft along the boom and then back through a channel in the doghouse to one of the three giant Harken winches mounted on the cockpit sole. Through a highly complex system of drives, most of the gearing on deck, three coffee grinders are used to drive the seven winches, including the ones on top of the aft beam.

With some exertion on the pumps 356sqm of main sail is carefully hoisted up the 41m tall mast with a man on top of the flaked main feeding in the sliders and another checking the reefing lines are free. In this era of the spectra hoop the only metal deckware we find is a padeye on the foredeck for the storm jib tack and two metal shackles at the reef points on the main sail. The mainsail has a huge square top, although not as dramatic as the 5m long tops found on the 60s. Its area is 356sqm the same size as the first generation Ollier cats - small compared to Orange II's 470sqm main.

To cut out rope stretch and compression in the mast, the mainsail has a halyard lock as do all of the bigger sails. Once the sail is hoisted it is then cranked down on the cunningham.

First heading upwind past Ile de Groix, the island immediately off Lorient harbour we unfurl the solent. Like the mainsail this is built in grey waterproof lightweight Cuben fibre although its maker Jean-Baptiste Levaillant tells us some are likely to be exchanged for D4 laminated sails in the future according to which record being under taken. With no record attempts formally planned until 2007 there is plenty of time for the team to refine their sail shapes.

Groupama III's sail wardrobe is fairly standard for boats of this type including a mainsail, big solent, staysail (trinquette), ORC (a fairly large and usually reefable storm jib) and three gennikers, two of them masthead. All but the staysail and ORC are on furlers which use soft hanks. As with Ellen's B&Q Castorama, the boat has no bowsprit - instead it has bow! The tack for the large gennikers is right at the end of the bow although we noticed that the location of the shrouds and capshrouds limits the roach position of the big gennikers, although no doubt there exists this exact same issue on the 60ft tris.

One of the interesting problems experienced on Groupama III (as well as on the 60s) is how to rig the fairlead block for the headsails when there is no convenient area of deck to mount a track as you would have on a monohull. On Groupama III there is a flying block controlled laterally by a barberhaul and a 'tweaker' effectively the opposite of the barber hauler pulling the block outboard. The barber hauler attaches to a block mounted on the topside of the main hull while the tweaker runs out on a multiple purchase on a substantial strop attached to the deck of each float. To keep the slack weather block from carving a nice hole in the large expanse of green trampoline several lengths of elastic joins the two fairlead blocks either side of the boat, the elastic kept in the air simply by running over the top of the boom. Ingenious.

Inevitably for our sail the wind is generally in the sub-10 knot range with flat water and a scorching sun until the early afternoon when a black cloud decides to dump its load on us. However even at these speeds there is an impressive blast of apparent wind down the slot. As this is training time on a new 105ft trimaran the crew are constantly cautious of the highly loaded deckware in particular being within firing range of any blocks that might blow up: even in the light winds the loads are still impressive.

At one point as we are on the helm under the big genniker the wind helpfully pipes up to 12 knots and the boat speed, so far always around twice that of the true wind, soars to 22 knots. The record we are told to date is 33 knots in around 18 knots of wind, so the prospect of what will happen in 25 or 30 knots of breeze is something very special. As with other big multihulls we've been on, including the 60ft trimarans, 22 knots is slightly less than cruising speed and aside from the blast of apparent wind and the B&G read-out there is nothing particularly pulse-raising about sailing at this speed. If she is to take on Orange II, then the crew will have to get used to regularly sailing the boat in the mid-30s with spirts well into the 40s and like the first generation Ollier G-Class cats and unlike Orange II we suspect due her light displacement Groupama III will be a boat that demonstrates bursts of incredible high speed.

The helm is responsive but feels stiff but this is thanks to the complex system of connectors used to link up her three rudders - one on each hull.

While Groupama III may not have all the tweaky bits of the team's 60 she does have some. There are curved foils in her floats - in fact when we went out there was only one in her port float - with the characteristic hook at its end creating the important endplate dramatically improving the performance of the foil. 60 features she doesn't have are a trim-tag on her daggerboard to improve performance to weather - the daggerboard in her central hull is mounted between the mast and the forward beam. At present, although it is a modification likely to be made at a future date, the mast also cannot be canted to weather (or fore and aft) as it can on the 60s. Interestingly the other G-Class trimaran Geronimo has taken the opposite approach - she doesn't have foils in her floats but was recently fitted with a rig that can cant.

The doghouse on the boat is a clever design. Here there is seating for four and windows allowing views up and sideways and there is a horizontal 'patio' style door to the interior between the seats. At the back of the doghouse there are two additional seats outside where the crew can sit and trim while being protected from the elements. Clever.

Down below we weren't allowed to photograph, but immediately to starboard there is a large wet locker for oilskins, along with the same heated boot rack as we first saw on Innovation Explorer (subsequently Orange 1, Kingfisher 2 and now Gitana XIII). This simply comprises hot air from the generator being vented through a number of 1in diameter carbon tubes on to which one's inverted boots are placed.

Forward of this are three pipecots for the stand-by watch with the galley complete with two burner stove and stainless steel sink with stowage under. There is additional stowage beneath the cabin sole.

The hull is divided up at regular 4m intervals by bulkheads. Through the bulkhead forward of the galley there is a compartment with another three pipecots which will be used upwind.

Heading back down the centre hull there is a passage down the starboard side of the hull with the removable carbon fibre companionway to port. The engine is beneath this and just aft of this will be the 'media centre' (not fitted yet) where crewman/cameraman Jacques Caraes will work his magic. Immediately aft of this is Marcel van Triest's navigation lair. This is small compared to the Brasil 1 nav station the tall Dutchman has been used to in recent months and tiny compared to the lavish nav stations found on the Ollier cats. The nav station is forward facing and there is an escape hatch to starboard bringing daylight into the compartment.

Going further aft there is another compartment with three more pipecots which will be used when sailing downwind. In the furthest aft area is the large carbon fibre quadrant and stock for the central rudder.

Cammas and his team have a decade's worth of experience in 60s and as they did with their latest 60 footer have already taken a considerable amount of time developing this boat, with more work to come in the forthcoming months. Although a fortnight of training offshore is booked for August records will not be undertaken in anger until 2007. The program is set to include the records on the Atlantic lap such as Cadiz-San Savlador and then west to east across the Atlantic and will culminate in a Jules Verne Trophy attempt over the winter of 2007-8.

So will a lightweight 105x73ft 18 tonne trimaran be faster than a 120x59ft 32 tonne catamaran on record courses? The school is out on this. We suspect the performance characteristics of Groupama III will show a marked difference to Orange II, in particularly she will not need as much wind to sail to her top speed and her light wind performance should be superior. In contrast she is unlikely to be able to be driven as hard in big reaching conditions and large seas as Peyron's catamaran. We look forward to these two boats lining up which may conceivably happen if the proposed race for these boats from Vannes to Iceland takes place next June.

Full photographic evidence on the following pages....

Next week we'll publish video from our day out on Groupama III and our interview with her skipper Franck Cammas.

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