For the 2016 edition, the Groupama Race will have a new guest of honour, the champion single-hander, Michel Desjoyeaux. Nicknamed “professor”, he is following Frank Cammas’ example by coming to support the race. He will fire the starter’s gun at the Rocher à la Voile in Nouméa.
What an honour! Following on from Franck Cammas in 2014, Groupama Race this year will welcome another French sailing champion, Michel Desjoyeaux. It is what you would expect since Franck and Michel, each of them the best in their speciality (with crew and single-handed), know each other well. They are currently facing a completely different challenge with Groupama team France; the America’s Cup – the Holy Grail of yacht racing.
But who is this guy who is fondly called “Michdesj”?
In the world of single-handed sailing, no one has a prize list like his. Three times winner of the Figaro single hander (Solitaire du Figaro), twice winner of the Vendée Globe, Winner of La Route du Rhum and the Transat (called the Transat Anglaise by the French) and, more recently, the MOD European Tour (with a crew). He has been elected Sailor of the Year three times (2001, 2007 and 2009).
Just like Franck, Michel’s success is largely built on what went before. Brought up in the family boat yard in Port la Forêt, every day he was surrounded by the aromas of wood, glue and resin. With his elder brother Hubert, who was managing CDK Technologies, they worked together on performance improvement. Michel was the first to adopt a canting keel on a racing yacht. Since then, he has continuously innovated in such divers fields as performance, structures and electronics.
A bit of good luck, then, for those taking part in this year’s Groupama Race. Even though he won’t be taking part in the race, Michel will support and encourage the 18 yachts that will sail 650 miles around New Caledonia. A huge challenge given that, for the first time this year, the race is open large vessels, such as the Orma 60, “Team Vodafone Sailing”, formerly Michel’s “Géant” on board which he won the Route de Rhum and the Jacques Vabre Transat. Seventeen other yachts have entered, including “Jessica Rabbit”, a 40’ foil trimarin designed by Martin Fisher, Team France’s architect; eighty foot “Beau Geste Racing” from Hong Kong; the 60’ carbon fibre “Ichi Ban” skippered by Australian Yachting Federation President, Matt Allen or the local boat Banque de Nouvelle-Calédonie, IRC’s 2ond overall of the last Sydney Hobart.