On November 23, Franck Cammas and Charles Caudrelier took the win in the Ultime category of the Transat Jacques Vabre with real panache, adding yet another victory to the Maxi Edmond de Rothschild’s list of achievements.
Ultimately, it is on this success in Martinique that the Gitana Team rounds off what has been a very fine season of sport in 2021. Indeed, the racing stable founded by Ariane and Benjamin de Rothschild was supposed to be linking straight onto a fresh attempt at the Jules Verne Trophy, but a collision with a UFO during the delivery trip back to Europe has forced the team to reconsider its plans.
The round the world record, where the current target is to post a sub-40-day time, remains a major objective for the five-arrow Team, which will do everything in its power to include it in what is already a hectic programme in the coming years.
No Jules Verne Trophy this winter
Collisions with UFOs (Non-identified floating objects) are now part and parcel of everyday life for offshore racing teams. That’s a fact! For the crew on the Maxi Edmond de Rothschild, 2021 has been punctuated by these chance encounters, which have the ability to undermine a sports programme and dash the hopes of both the sailors and their shore team in an instant.
Over the course of July, whilst Franck Cammas, Charles Caudrelier and their Jules Verne Trophy crew were in training on a long sprint around the North Atlantic, a collision with a UFO severely damaged the central rudder on the flying trimaran. Fortunately, a new appendage was already being manufactured and the Maxi Edmond de Rothschild was quickly able to head back out to sea and secure the win in early August’s Rolex Fastnet Race.
Late September saw the team suffer another impact, this time on one of the foils, which significantly hampered the training and preparation phase for Gitana’s skippers just weeks before the Transat Jacques Vabre. Once more the technicians rallied together and the team’s know-how enabled the Edmond de Rothschild duo to line up in Le Havre with a boat able to sail at her full potential again.
Last week, having made an express return passage from the West Indies and just a few hours before making landfall on the Breton coast, the boat was once again involved in a collision as Charles Caudrelier explains: “We were north of the Azores, 36 hours from our final destination. I was down below in my bunk and heard the boat impact something with quite a snap. It wasn’t an horrendous noise and David and Yann, who were up on deck, didn’t really feel the boat stall either.
“However, following the collision there was an unusual noise coming from the centreboard which prompted us to check out the appendage. Initially, I believed something had got trapped around the centreboard and we went into reverse to try and dislodge it. That’s when we spotted that the elevator (skate wing) was no longer attached to the end of the centreboard… and that the latter was damaged. Today, we have aboard all the various systems to prevent these collisions… but it’s not that simple.”
Returning to Lorient last Friday, the centreboard has since been inspected and despite everyone being very motivated to see the big blue trimaran head back out to sea for a fresh round the world record attempt, it was important to face facts.
“We lost the skate wing in the collision,” said Cyril Dardashti, Gitana’s general manager. “We have a spare part but upon assessing the centreboard early in the week, we saw that the damage was too extensive on this appendage with the structural plank (internal structure of the composite centreboard) impacted and weeks of work which cannot be reduced down to get the part fully operational again as we do not have a spare centreboard.
“Together with Pierre Tissier and Sébastien Sainson, we’ve been looking for solutions, but the centreboard and its elevator are a central element on the Maxi Edmond de Rothschild, where a large proportion of the loads are based in the high-speed flight phases. It would not be responsible to undertake the work in this area without due care and attention given the next aim of a round the world. We have no other option than to postpone our initial programme, even though it’s very frustrating for all the team.”
Return transatlantic passage with a view to the Rhum and a new record in excess of 50 knots!
“It’s a great disappointment for all the team not to be able to have another crack at the Jules Verne Trophy adventure this winter!” said Charles Caudrelier. “The record is very close to our hearts, particularly in light of the fact that together with the boat and the crew we hold all the cards to hunt down the legendary time of 40 days. Despite this change of programme, we shouldn’t forget that Gitana Team and this boat have had a magnificent year.
“On a personal level, I’ve also had a pretty exceptional return transatlantic and I’ve managed to size up the Maxi in solo configuration and cast my mind forward a little more towards the Route du Rhum.”
On Saturday 27 November, five days after their victorious arrival in Fort-de-France, Charles Caudrelier cast off on a return delivery trip by way of training in mock-solo mode. For the first time, he was able to get the measure of the giant without Franck Cammas alongside him; an experience which proved to be very rewarding: “There aren’t a massive amount of opportunities to sail the Maxi in mock-solo mode so this return transatlantic passage very quickly became a natural solution.
“By switching from double-handed to mock-solo mode, you really switch gear, especially so when your double is called Franck Cammas! He really brings so much to the plate… I hadn’t really sailed singlehanded since 2008, 2009 and I wanted to see what rhythm I was capable of maintaining on my own.
“The boisterous conditions were perfect for this exercise. However, the seas were heavy which forced us to ease off the pace, so it just goes to show that the boat has even more potential… She’s sound and after the past few days at sea, I believe I’ll be able to maintain a similar average speed to those posted in double-handed format during the long tacks. It’s a different picture for the manœuvres but it’s all in the training.”
During this return passage, the sailor even treated himself to two new personal bests, starting with that by the boat. In fact, the 50-knot barrier was broken with the Maxi Edmond de Rothschild polled at 50.7 knots!
The second, albeit non-official since it cannot be approved due to the lack of sufficient gear aboard, is nonetheless impressive since 880 miles were covered in 24 hours at a speed of 36.6 knots. It’s worth noting that the official record held by François Gabart since 2017 during his singlehanded round the world passage is 850 miles.
“Early in the year, various people deemed our programme overly ‘ambitious’, but it was clearly achievable,” said Cyril Dardashti. “After that, you have to accept a blow dealt by fate, which is par for the course in our mechanical sport. We’ve had an excellent 2021 with two magnificent victories. The double in the Rolex Fastnet Race and a true demonstration by Franck and Charles in the Transat Jacques Vabre, which rewards the extensive work carried out by the whole team over many years.
“This change of programme will enable us to prepare the Maxi for the Route du Rhum earlier than planned, which will open up other pre-season opportunities. And above all, it’s already a given that the Jules Verne Trophy will be on the boat’s programme for late 2022. The quest for the record, to fly around the world, has been the aim of this project since her launch and that remains unchanged!”
Early tomorrow morning, the Maxi Edmond de Rothschild will be hauled out and nestled into the Gitana Team’s technical base in Lorient. There the flying maxi-trimaran’s winter refit will commence with the main event of 2022 on everyone’s minds, the legendary Route du Rhum!