Yvan Zedda / Groupama

Franck Cammas' latest green flyer

Damian Foxall gives us a guided tour to the Groupama 4 VO70

Friday October 7th 2011, Author: James Boyd, Location: France

With the start of the Volvo Ocean Race’s first leg to Cape Town just a month away, we felt it was time to start looking at some of the hardware that will be taking part in the fully crewed round the world race.

Despite D-day approaching it still remains unclear whether there will be six or seven boats on the start line, with strong rumours that Telefonica Black will take part. If this comes to pass then she will be one of two last generation boats competing alongside the Mike Sanderson-skippered Team Sanya, the former Telefonica Blue.

What is certain is that there will be five brand new boats with the same three designers involved as there were for the last race. With designer exclusivity agreements banned this time around, so Juan Kouyoumdjian, designer of the last two winners – Torben Grael’s Ericsson 4 (2008-9) and Mike Sanderson’s ABN AMRO One (2005-6) – has been the most prolific and he and his Valencia-based team have been responsible for three of the five – Ken Read’s Puma-backed Mar Mostro, the Iker Martinez-led Telefonica and Franck Cammas’ Groupama 4.

Having designed the last Puma entry that finished second in 2008-9, Marcellino Botin returns with the Emirates Team New Zealand crew led by Chris Nicholson on Camper. Finally Farr Yacht Design is back in the frame with what looks to be one of the most radical boats in the Ian Walker-skippered Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing.

So we’ll kick off with the new Groupama...

Folklore states that the first boat into Cape Town usually wins the Volvo Ocean Race. It also states that the team that bought the previous winner, in this case Ericsson 4, ends up with honours in the next race. If this is so then the Groupama team is favourite.

Groupama represents a welcome return to the fully crewed round the world race of France, one of the world’s strongest nations in offshore racing, the last effort having been the maxi-ketch La Poste in the 1993-4 race. Their participation comes following an initiative from Volvo Ocean Race CEO Knut Frostad during the last race to woe a French team to the event. However it is also timely for Groupama skipper Franck Cammas. Having won the Solitaire du Figaro, Cammas became unbeatable in the latter years of the ORMA 60 class with Groupama 2. Last year he successfully set a new time for the Jules Verne Trophy, non-stop around the world aboard his 105ft maxi-trimaran Groupama 3 and then in the same boat, albeit with a cut-down rig, he won the Route du Rhum, singlehanded, in an effort comparable to Eric Tabarly’s win in the 1976 OSTAR aboard his Whitbread maxi Pen Duick VI. With this track record it is perhaps understandable that Cammas wished to raise his game further and enter offshore racing’s most competitive fully crewed event.

In their campaign for the Volvo Ocean Race, the Groupama team has not been wanting. Their budget of 17 million Euros per year is roughly what Ericsson is believed to have spent for their two boat campaign in 2008-9. With this Cammas and Team Manager Stéphane Guilbaud have set up an operation more akin to an America’s Cup campaign (Cammas spent some time working for BMW Oracle Racing prior to the 33rd America’s Cup), with departments for all the key areas and with at times as many as 60 people on the payroll, although come the race itself Cammas says they will be travelling around the world with 35 people plus the sailing team.

To run this show they have been operating out of the former Le Defi base within Lorient’s submarine base, where the Volvo Ocean Race will visit as its penultimate stopover next year.

Groupama was one of the first to sign up for the 2011-12 race with a program that will span the next two events. With this they had the advantage that they could buy their choice of trial horses from the previous event. Understandably they acquired the last winner Ericsson 4.

While this has all the markings of a winning campaign, the only fly in the ointment has been one of culture. If he’d followed the Tabarly model, then Cammas could easily have put together an entirely French campaign including designers, builders, structural engineers, sailmakers and sailors for enough resource exists in France to do this. However this is the not the Cammas way – his primary goal is to win.

“We don’t have experience and the culture from the Volvo Ocean Race,” Cammas admits. “That is necessary because all boat classes in the world have their specialists and we need these specialists to learn and to avoid making the mistakes we’ll make if we don’t know better. My main idea is to be fast and efficient for the race. We will see for the next time if we have more experience then maybe we can have more new French guys. In France there are very few guys who’ve done the Volvo Ocean Race.”

Thus alongside French crew such as Thomas Coville, Solitaire winner Charles Caudrelier, and ex-Belgacom ORMA 60 skipper Jean-Luc Nelias are ex-Green Dragon Australian Phil Harmer, two ex-Ericsson 3 Swedes in Martin Krite and Martin Strömberg and even a token Kiwi in the form of bowman Brad Marsh. On the build Killian Bushe, who built the ABN AMRO and Ericsson VO70s was a consultant to Groupama as Pierre Tissier led the build at Multiplast in Vannes on behalf of the team. Similarly they have gone to North France for their sails rather than Incidences who supplied the sails for their trimarans.

However the upshot of this is that throughout the design, R&D, build and sailing processes there has been lively ‘discussion’ between the French sailors and the Volvo specialists. Cammas admits there have been numerous areas where they have had to make decisions as much analysis of performance versus risk, melding their knowledge with that of the Volvo specialists.

One area for example is the rig – typically VO70 masts have four spreaders – whereas Groupama only has three. “When we spoke about that with the guys who did the Volvo they said ‘no, it is too risky’,” says Cammas. “But we were confident in our solution. It’s been tested on IMOCA 60s, but it hasn’t been tried in the Volvo before. For sure I have the responsibility if it breaks. They will say ‘it is your fault!’ But if we do nothing and we always stay with the old systems, for sure we won’t break, but we won’t win as well. So we have to improve and progress and think about new technology in order to be faster than the others. Otherwise we might as well stay with Ericsson 4.”

As Cammas say,s there are precious few people who have profound experience in both French offshore racing and the Volvo Ocean Race but of these French-naturalised Irishman Damian Foxall is top of the tree. He was a regular on the ORMA 60 circuit, won the first Barcelona World Race with Jean-Pierre Dick on an IMOCA 60 and has sailed three Volvo Ocean Races, previously with Tyco, Ericsson and Green Dragon.

We were fortunate that Foxall was on hand down in Lorient recently to give us a guided tour to the green weapon.

This time with the maximum keel and bulb weight limited to 7.4 tonnes and all-up weight to 14.5 tonnes, so the new generation VO70s are achieving less righting moment from their bulbs, but according to Foxall the form stability from the hull shape on the new Groupama goes some way to recover this. “The hull form is a bit more powerful, maybe closer to Ericsson 3, with less return on the transom. It is still a very powerful shape in the bow, but not to the extent of Abu Dhabi, which is enormous.”

On deck Foxall observes that they have gone down a similar route to IMOCA 60s such as Groupe Bel in attempting to reduce windage and structural weight and they have identified that shedding water from on deck is important so the downhill slope of the deck continues on through the cockpit.

Whereas Abu Dhabi’s cabin top melds into her curved deck, on Groupama they made the decision to have a raised coachroof thus enabling them to lower the deck and have smaller bulkheads; both features reducing weight and lowering the hull’s overall centre of gravity (CoG).

According to Foxall during the planing of the new boat they built a full scale mock-up of the cockpit and one option they examined was the Telefonica Blue AC V5-style sidedeck-free cockpit, a feature being used this time on the Abu Dhabi boat (but not the new Telefonica interestingly). This has lower windage and lowers the CoG of the stack, but Foxall points out that it is heavier, due to the extra strengthening required in the topsides and the islands for the cockpit winches. Also it limits interior stacking volume. “That’s important given that you aren’t allowed to stack behind the aft bulkhead now.”

A noticeable feature in the cockpit is layout of the pit with a bank of clutches to port and starboard, but another immediately aft of the companionway. For the latter, lines from the mast are led directly back via a tunnel running through the centre of the main cabin area where they are operated by a pit winch driven by the front pedestal. However the central tunnel (as opposed to the twin tunnels on Ericsson 4) means that they had to widen the companionway. “It is actually better. We have something to hold on to. The guys who weren’t that keen on it have come around,” says Foxall.

The winch package is from Harken with four driven winches (pit, main, primaries). However they have swapped the runner winches and the 990 primaries around, so the primaries are now aft. “Basically we are trying to get the guys towards the back of the boat in one area around the helm and the main trimmer’s area,” says Foxall.

They also considered moving the mainsheet pedestal aft of the mainsheet track, as has been done on Camper (and the Kiwi team's TP52), but chose not to do this. “There were implications with regards to hydraulics, etc which meant we preferred to leave it, but what Camper has done is smart,” says Foxall.

Groupama’s two masts have been built next door to their base by Lorimar. According to Foxall the main reason for losing a set of spreaders was to reduce windage. The standing rigging is from Carbolink, in carbon fibre with continuous Vs and traditional Ds. The carbon fibres are fused together by electric current once the rigging is fitted: “It is an interesting process - they semi-cook it at the factory and then they coil it up and they come and plug a battery in to it on site.”

There are locks on all the halyards and the standard practice seems to be to use locks from a variety of manufacturers. “Different locks for different jobs – whether it is a masthead, which has to work in various directions or a J4 or a mainsail which pulls in a unidirectional manner, you have to address it in different ways,” explains Foxall. “And whether the weight of the lock stays up there or whether you can drop it when the system comes down, that is also something to take into account.”

While Abu Dhabi have gone to town with their hydraulics for the sails/mast, on Groupama 4 Foxall says they have a more conventional set-up, with hydraulics for the top mast, checkstay, jib tack, Cunningham and outhaul. “Hydraulics are useful in that they allow you to make adjustments in a much more efficient way, but there is a weight cost with that. So there is a balance to be found between the range of movement you need and how quickly you need it.”

He continues: “When the boat is going fast and there is a lot of water on deck it is easier to stay where you are and pump on the hydraulics than it is to go and hook up a line and put it on a winch. People are more and more thinking about these boats as being shorthanded, plus how they deal with the water on the deck, how do we sail the boat fast and all the teams have spent a lot of effort on windage. We still don’t see luxury cockpits like you do in the Open 60 class, because it is slow and under the rule you can’t justify the weight and the windage. So it is a compromise.”

For their jib track they have the same set-up as Ericsson 4 with a track for the J1 and fixed points for the J2-4.

Like the other boats, Groupama 4 has towers on the aft corners of her cockpit for the spinnaker sheets. However they haven’t gone for the option of using these for their runners. “How far you come off the centre line affects the set up of the rig a lot, especially the top mast section."

She also has a forestay tower, first featured on the Telefonica boats in the last race. This makes for a slightly longer J measurement in turn making a potential gain of around 2.5sqm in headsail size. “The definition is the intersection between the deck and the forestay, so the deck comes up to meet the forestay," says Foxall. "It is significant on some of the smaller jibs, especially in an offshore boat where the J allows you to have a bigger staysail inside your headsail.”

As on Ericsson 4, the bowsprit points slightly downwards, again to gain luff length on the spinnakers.

Kite handling seems to vary between the boats and many, including Groupama, now only have rule-minimum foredeck hatches and this, it would seem, eliminates the possibility of a pedestal-assisted spinnaker take-down system. “About a year ago it still wasn’t clear what sails we were going to use inshore," says Foxall. "You could easily imagine that in fact there were going to be no spinnakers. But, rightly so, they have allowed us to have a specific inshore spinnaker card for all the teams so we can sail properly downwind on the inshores. How the different boats are going to deal with them it is up to each team. We saw Abu Dhabi when we came into Plymouth [at the end of the Rolex Fastnet Race] with a top down furling system on their A2/A4 - that seems to work well. They have also got a large forehatch which they could drop the spinnaker down like we did on Green Dragon and Ericsson 1, while others [including Groupama] will do aft hatch drops, like Ericsson 4 and Telefonica.”

Another area of profound head scratching was over the twin daggerboards. Here too the French had a lot to offer following their research into the boards for their ORMA 60s and IMOCA 60s. “There are a lot of things to take into account, where they come out of the hull, the angle they come out of the hull and how that affects the flow underneath the hull, the compromise between lateral resistance versus the vertical lift they give and where they are on an upwind course or a reaching course. The other element to take into account is that the more you put the daggerboards under the boat they create vertical lift but actually they take away righting moment as well. Charles and Franck spent a lot of time looking at that with Juan.”

The bottoms of the asymmetric boards on Groupama are slightly toed in from vertical and they are located just forward of the mast protruding on deck midway between the centreline and the gunwale.

According to Foxall the design of the boards, whether they could be curved, have cover plates, bearing details, etc were one of the main topics to feature in the public and confidential interpretations issued by the VOR’s rules arbitrators. While we haven’t seen all the boats together yet, it seems as though Telefonica may be the team attempting to gain the most vertical lift off their boards.

Down below on Groupama 4 the mast is stepped on a elevated platform rather than on the hull, for reasons we’ll address in a future article. The name of the game in terms of the engineering is to minimise all internal structure by making it multi-function, tying in the loads from the mast, chainplates, keel and daggerboards. We weren’t allow to photograph down below but in the main area of load action there are twin bulkheads with large apertures in them.

“Previous boats had a bulkhead much further aft with a triangular hole which was a nightmare for stacking sails,” says Foxall, who adds that a decision on exact bulkhead positioning was put off for as long as possible as it was affected by the position of the daggerboards, the keel bulb shape and even the spreader configuration.

Slightly unusual with the layout down below is that whereas the galley on most VO70s is just aft of the main bulkhead, on Groupama it is out of the way beneath the forward end of the cockpit, presumably to make it easier to shift the tack.

As at the forward end of the cockpit the sidedecks widen, so there is considerably more space in the tunnels down below either side of the cockpit than there is on Abu Dhabi. “That has a very large effect on how you live inside the boat, but most importantly how you stack inside the boat. We decided that was important than windage,” says Foxall.

Whereas most VO70s have the nav station under the cockpit forward and the media station aft on Groupama it is the other way around and given the downward slope of the cockpit aft, this doesn’t leave much headroom for the navigator.

This may be the first of Groupama's two planned campaigns for the Volvo Ocean Race, but in no way does does their first attempt feel like a dry run for 2014-15. Eric Tabarly would be proud.


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