Saturday 24 February 2018

Foxall back on radar with record-breaking Groupama

WM Nixon

Damian Foxall of Kerry, Sailor of the Year in 2008, is on the radar again after the 103ft French trimaran Groupama, skippered by Franck Cammas, smashed the unlimited world sail circuit record last weekend.

Foxall is already signed up as a key member of the Groupama team for the next Volvo Ocean Race, and with the start in autumn 2011 at Alicante, the new Cammas campaign is taking shape with their base at Lorient, the stopover before the race finishes in Galway in the summer of 2012.

Now that Groupama has cleared the 50-day world circuit target with a time of 48 days 7 hours and 52 seconds, the way is cleared for massively-resourced projects. It seems straightforward enough with the job done, but there were major setbacks.

A first attempt saw the damaged multihull limping into Cape Town and then being shipped back to France for a rebuild. The second attempt was looking good, but they lost out in the South Atlantic and were a whole day astray crossing the equator when returning north.

But then things fell right and they found their way neatly round the Azores high, and the finish line a thousand miles ahead "was just a couple of good surfs over the horizon."

The ace navigator was Stan Honey of California, who also piloted the 2005-2006 Volvo World Race winner ABN Amro. He was impressed with the Groupama team approach. It was as democratic and relaxed as possible within the constraints of sailing at the extreme.

Honey has sailed with some of the top New Zealand squads, and he hints that the atmosphere on their boats is very different. But the civilised atmosphere, which enabled people to give their best, was heightened by the brilliance of the boat's design. There was specific stowage for every last item, the pod with the crew quarters stayed dry, and the food was good.

They'll have difficulty transferring that to a Volvo 70. As anyone who went on board Green Dragon when she was on display in Salthill will know, a Volvo 70 makes the harshest monk's cell seem palatial. Foxall will know it very well as he makes his input into the creation of this 'A' team.

Ireland's Olympic dinghy hopefuls are lining up for the Princess Sofia Trophy in Mallorca, which starts this weekend. After the success of the Star class, sailors Peter O'Leary and Stephen Milne in getting second overall in the Bacardi Cup in Florida, the standards are set high. The Irish squad have seven boats, with former Olympians Ger Owens and Ross Killian taking the plunge in the 49er class against Ryan Seaton and Matt McGovern, while the Laser Radials have Annaliese Murphy, Tiffany Brien and Debbie Hanna. James Espey is in the full-rig Lasers, and Ross Hamilton is taking on the Olympic Finn.

Spring is nicely in place in Mallorca, but winter is relenting only slowly in Scotland. The Scottish Universities Open Team Championship at Strathclyde provided a harsh yet favourable setting for a useful Irish win, with UCD taking overall honours, trouncing Edinburgh in the final.

Irish Independent

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