Franck Cammas and his Groupama sailing team moved to within nine points of closest rivals CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand on the overall scoreboard after banking second place in Leg 3 of the Volvo Ocean Race.
Cammas’ men crossed the finish line in Sanya at 05:45:25 UTC just behind leg winners Team Telefónica following one of the most closely fought battles so far.
“When I started this leg I said that if we were on the podium by the end of it I would be happy,” the skipper said as he led his team across the line to the shouts and applause of the thousands of fans who turned out to welcome the Volvo Ocean Race to China.
“Second place suits us just fine. To be honest, we’re feeling very relaxed with Groupama 4 speed-wise and in general with all the different conditions we’ve been through.
“I think that something we’ve learnt on this leg and that pleases us, so it’s a turn up for the books being second but it’s still the same people in front – Telefónica!”
Groupama held the lead on six separate occasions during the 3,000 nautical mile sprint from the Maldives to Sanya, and since the fleet left the Malacca Strait five days ago the French team came excruciatingly close to snatching the top spot.
“There were two very important moments for us,” Cammas added. “Firstly, the passage through the Malacca Straight where we came back into the head of the fleet from being neck and neck with CAMPER. In one night we managed to get back up there with Telefónica and PUMA, and it was with them that we came out of Singapore together, so that was an important moment.
“The other part that was important, not just for us but for everyone, was the tacking up the Vietnamese coast. That was a crucial point where we really could have lost a lot – we all saw what happened to PUMA that cost them dearly, basically these 2 moments were key because you could win or lose distance so easily!”
Groupama’s second place finish gives them 20 points, giving them an overall leg score of 24 points.
After three legs Groupama now have 71 points, keeping them in third place.
Unlike in Leg 2, where he split away from the fleet for the second stage of Leg 3, Cammas kept Groupama 4 right in the mix.
Fights came thick and fast and as early as day two, Cammas was pleased with Groupama 4’s performance against CAMPER. "Nice fight,” he said. “Rather satisfying in terms of speed,” he added.
Easily keeping pace with the fleet in the drag race around Sri Lanka and up to the way point of Pulau We at the northern end of Sumatra, Groupama kept in the shadows of the leading three, looking hard for a passing lane. With PUMA in sight, crew continued to trim the sails until the sheets turned red on the winches to keep capitalising on any gains they could, and minimising the losses.
They entered the Malacca Strait in a rare fourth place on day six, and, when nearest rivals CAMPER and Abu Dhabi split from the fleet and headed towards the Malaysian shoreline, Groupama took their chance, using PUMA’s Mar Mostro (Ken Read/USA) as their pacemaker.
The real scrap began on day nine, January 30, when, still in the Malacca Strait, Groupama had picked off PUMA, closed the gap to metres from leg leaders Telefónica and began to flex their muscles. They tailed Telefónica past the Horsbugh Lighthouse 3.4 nm behind and set off in hot pursuit across the open sea towards a small archipelago off the eastern coast of Malaysia.
Cammas was the first of the pair to tack to get a better angle on the islands, which needed to be left to port, but Martínez protected his position, fending off relentless attacks from the French crew on day 10 as they raced on through the South China Sea towards the coast of Vietnam.
Gales forecast in their path and a short tacking duel up the coast of Vietnam did nothing curb the determination of Groupama sailing team, who continued to push hard, despite their mainsheet parting at a critical time on day 13.
Despite their good performance in reaching conditions, the 13-day battle was lost in the dying hours of the leg and Groupama 4 settled for second place.