Preparation and perseverance were crucial to Groupama's victory in their debut Volvo Ocean Race but if there was a single quality that summed up Franck Cammas and his team it was fearlessness.
A team with vast offshore experience, though little of it gained in the Volvo Ocean Race itself, simply would not be cowed.
Leaving the Alicante dock back in November to their Highway to Hell theme song, they made a bold decision to split from the fleet. It ended up costing them dearly in terms of miles, but they carried the same determination to sail the race in their own way all the way through to the finish of Leg 9 in Galway in the early hours of Tuesday.
Cammas and his team sowed the seeds of their success when they took delivery of Ericsson 4, the winning boat from the last edition, to use for training.
Meanwhile, Juan Kouyoumdjian, who designed Ericsson 4 and the winner in 2005-06 as well, was working hand in glove with the team on a new Volvo Open 70.
"Franck is very involved in the project," said the Argentine designer. “He wants to know and to understand everything. I think it’s a very good thing. New ideas eventually emerge from such discussions."
All that research, development and attention to detail would turn out to be very well invested, as the set-up of the boat, including sail plan, made them close to untouchable in reaching conditions. They were extremely competitive in every other mode as well, thanks to outstanding performance analysis and a determination to keep improving.
It did not seem like the beginnings of a race winning campaign when Cammas and his navigator Jean-Luc Nélias took what turned out to the wrong decision to hug the west African coast on the way down towards Cape Town.
They were never able to make up significant ground but the problems suffered by Abu Dhabi, Sanya and later PUMA meant they were still able to take third place -- and 20 points -- from what was a real learning experience.
“We are pleased to get to Cape Town and to leave with some lessons and confidence in the boat, and all the experience we have built up,’’ said Cammas. “It is a lot more important than any amount of training you can do over two years.”
Again, they did things their own way on Leg 2, building a lead of over 100 miles with a risky move to the east of the fleet before they were snared by the Doldrums.
They had to settle for fourth in the first stage of the leg to the Maldives, as Telefónica once again beat CAMPER for the line honours, but Cammas believed he could see improvement and it continued on the second stage of the leg, a sprint from Sharjah to Abu Dhabi, following the anti-piracy measures that led to the fleet being transported by ship.
Despite racing with a cracked hull, Cammas' men surged to victory in a 20 knot northwest breeze and big swell to finish 52 seconds ahead of Telefónica.
Groupama continued to show progress on Leg 3, taking a mini-podium place with third on the sprint back to Sharjah and coming in second into Sanya, but at that stage they still seemed to be in a race for the podium at best, with Telefónica's third successive leg victory underlining their reputation as favourites.
Another Telefónica victory in the Haitang Bay In-Port Race left Groupama a massive 28 points behind the leaders but still the mood in the French camp was positive.
Their faith in their own skill and resources was vindicated on Leg 4 when they survived a late scare to seal their first major victory and finally bring Telefónica's extraordinary run to an end.
Martin Krite, the team's Swedish bowman, went downstairs to check the bow and discovered a tonne of water coming in, prompting Media Crew Member Yann Riou to produce one of the most memorable quotes of the race: "if we don't sink, we win!"
Thanks to Krite and Brad Marsh it was the latter rather than the former and so began the long process of hauling Telefónica back.
Buoyed, by their success, Cammas gave a telling answer when asked to some up in a single word how he felt about taking on the Southern Ocean.
"Excited and happy," came the response, which was a contrast to the more sobering thoughts of some of his rivals.
The caution and respect they talked of turned out to be well founded as Leg 5 proved to be one of the toughest in the race's history.
Groupama suffered badly, dismasting when a second successive leg victory looked a real possibility, but because of similar trials suffered by three rivals they were able to limit the damage from a dismasting that in other circumstances could have been disastrous.
So even after Leg 5 and their unexpected sojourn in Punta del Este they were still within 20 points of Telefónica and when they claimed their first in-shore victory in the DHL In-Port Race Itajaí a few days later, and Telefónica finished last after rounding the wrong mark, it was game on.
Cammas and his men continued to take more points off the leaders from there on in. They never quite competed for victory in Leg 6 but a bold move towards the end took them home ahead of Telefónica, and second place in the PORTMiami In-Port Race took them within seven points of the top.
By this time, they were looking as commanding in the in-port race as they were offshore -- a remarkable improvement given their record at the start was to come second to last in both Alicante and Cape Town.
"I'm very happy because we saw a big improvement in this kind of inshore race from where we were at in Alicante," Cammas commented after the Itajaí success. "We've shown we can win. It's always the boat who makes the fewest mistakes who wins."
Second place behind Abu Dhabi coming into Lisbon on Leg 7 knocked Telefónica off their lead for the first time since November and another in-shore victory gave them an eight-point advantage.
Telefónica performed heroics to recover from rudder damage on Leg 8 and put themselves in a position to win but another heartbreaking problem close to the eye of a huge storm effectively ended their hopes of race victory.
“We have just seen any chance of us winning this round the world regatta slip away,’’ said Telefónica skipper Iker Martínez, effectively conceding the race.
Groupama were left to take a comfortable win into their home port of Lorient and they consolidated with yet another victory in the in-shore.
It left them needing a top-four finish to guarantee victory and given their imperious form that was never in the slightest doubt.