Wednesday 20 September 2017

Foxhall's Log: Speedy tri-marans to make for spectacular 3,000-mile sprint

Damian Foxhall

And we're off, back in the saddle, so to speak.

Barely a year ago, we were getting ready to cross the finishing line in Galway to win the Volvo Ocean Race on Groupama 4 with Franck Cammas.

This time out, instead of 39,000 miles over nine months around the world, the Route des Princes is a 3,000-mile sprint around Europe taking in Valencia, Lisbon, Plymouth and the Bay of Morlaix for the finish. All in less than four weeks, including spectacular inshore races in each port.

I'm thrilled to be back sailing, especially in tri-marans – this is my first competitive event since winning the round the world race, which had been a childhood ambition.

For the first time in over 20 years, instead of doing back-to-back projects without taking a real break, I returned to our home in Canada with Suzy Ann and our two children.

Between various speaking engagements and a project arranged for me by former Irish Sailing Association secretary general Paddy Boyd, who runs Sail Canada, competitive racing has taken a back seat to family life.

But earlier this year, I began taking monthly trips back to France and our base in Lorient, where I signed up with Sidney Gavignet's Oman Air team.

Also on board is one of my best friends in sailing, Neal McDonald, whom I've raced with and against over many years – we were both on the Green Dragon in the 2008-09 Volvo Ocean Race.

Since January, our training sessions over 10 days or two weeks have all been aimed at getting our team ready for the Route des Princes, our main goal for the season in addition to the Fastnet Race in August.

Although accommodation on board is limited – two bunks for six crew – we'll try to keep to our watch system to get some rest, even though it's likely to be fast and furious on these boats.

On our delivery trip to Valencia from Lorient, we hit speeds of over 41 knots. Most boats had half their crew suffering from seasickness as everyone acclimatised to the unique twisting motion of these triple-hulled boats.

For our team, we have a mix of experience on board between the skipper, Neal and myself, along with some other French sailors and our Omani team-mates, who are excellent sailors.

They form part of a national programme that the sultanate state is developing to make sailing a national sport.

That means we're still on a learning curve but unlike the year-long round the world race, we don't have time to gradually learn and evolve, which is how we won on Groupama, overtaking the favourites Telefonica to win in the closing stages.

We need to hit the ground running and that means maximising every point-scoring opportunity as we iron out our crew-work.

The first three races for the Valencia In-port series were held yesterday afternoon. A second place in race two was positive but two last places indicates we have work to do. Nevertheless, these boats are fantastic to sail and for me, they are a return to my days on the French circuit on 60-footers from which these boats evolved.

They are everything we could ask for – hi-tech, durable and most of all, fast.

We'll maximise our standings as best we can before starting out from Valencia to Lisbon tomorrow afternoon and perhaps we'll fare better in the offshore stages.

After Lisbon, it'll be on to Dun Laoghaire and I was especially pleased that three Irish ports competed to host this event, a sign that the potential of sailing in Ireland is at last being recognised.

It's great to be back at sea, back to what some people see as an addiction. But ocean racing is more than some crazed devotion – it's the same as most other sports.

It's about passion and commitment. My friend Tom Corridan from back home in Kerry is just the same, passing his love of football on to his family; I can only imagine how proud he is of his daughter Deirdre, who plays for Kerry.

It's the same for me, when I look at old photographs of my grandfather sailing his traditional Star class with my mother crewing for him.

I'm here, carrying on that love of the sea and of sport and it's great and I'm as excited as ever to be out on the water and racing again.

Irish Independent

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