Damian Foxall is one of the most experienced Volvo Ocean Race sailors but the Irishman still feels a healthy dose of anxiety at the prospect of going where, in his words, no man is supposed to go.
“We get to go to parts of the world where human beings aren’t really supposed to and that’s part of the adventure” - Damian Foxall
“You have to have a certain amount of anxiety and excitement going on otherwise you’re probably not performing at the top,” said Groupama sailing team’s Foxall, who is aiming to win the event for the first time after three previous appearances.
“I don’t think you should ever take the oceans with a pinch of salt, especially in these sorts of boats. We’re doing multihull speeds in a boat that weighs 14 tonnes with a lot of water on deck. It can be dangerous at times and it’s important to keep that in the forefront of your mind.”
Foxall describes the attempt to win the race at the fourth time of asking as the biggest challenge of his sailing career.
“The Volvo Ocean Race is simply the pinnacle of ocean racing,” said Foxall, crew manager and watch captain under skipper Franck Cammas on Groupama 4. You’ve got the world’s best sailors from all sorts of disciplines, it’s a huge human challenge. We get to go to parts of the world where human beings aren’t really supposed to and that’s part of the adventure.”
A veteran ocean racer, Foxall was one of the first sailors recruited when Cammas formed his mostly-French Volvo Ocean Race crew in late 2009. After nearly two years of preparation for the world’s toughest crewed yacht race, Foxall said Groupama sailing team are formidable opponents.
“We’ve put together a very cohesive team with a lot of complementary skills and personalities,” the 42-year-old from County Kerry added. “Where we are now is the result of two years of very hard work. We want to start with the best team, the best boat, the most motivation, and that’s where I think we are right now. We’re very dynamic and enthusiastic and we have a very good team – but then so does everyone else and that is what makes it interesting.”
Foxall has come a long way since he joined Team Tyco as a “nipper” for the Volvo Ocean Race 2001-02.
Not only has he added two more editions of the Volvo to his CV but also an Olympic Tornado campaign, several seasons in 60ft trimarans, an assault on the America’s Cup, a Jules Verne round the world record and a win in the double-handed Barcelona World Race. That leaves victory in the Volvo Ocean Race as his major remaining goal.
“One of the reasons I’m back for another race is that I haven’t won it yet,” he said. "Being here at the start of my fourth Volvo I’m as motivated as I have ever been, if not more. This is the most important challenge of my sailing career.”