Groupama Race 2018: “yacht racing at its best”

25  Jui.  2018 -  01h 26

24 June 2018

An international fleet of 23 monohulls and multihulls began their Groupama Race 2018 quest on Sunday June 17 at 10.20am Noumea time, completing an inshore triangle up close to the thousands of spectators on private boats and along the foreshore, then making for open ocean.

Two days’ later four skippers had made the tough decision to withdraw for reasons of seasickness and lack of wind, leaving 19 crews to contemplate the fascinating anticlockwise route along the island’s east coast to the northern exclusion zone at the Grand Passage, and back down the west coast to the finish line at the entrance to Noumea’s busy Port Moselle harbour.

Three days after the start the line honours battle was settled in favour of the Kiwis and the major handicap trophies provisional but relatively safe in the hands of their neighbours, the Australians.

Six days after the start the last Australian and then French boat sailed across the finish line on a striking winter’s day, bringing the tough sixth edition of the Cercle Nautique Calédonie’s Groupama Race to a close. It was a nervous time for the French crew of the Farr 10.20 Axians Untouchable, arriving three hours before the 1800hrs race time limit to a rowdy dock welcome.

A low pressure system in the Coral Sea held the usually reliable tradewinds back for three-quarters of the biennial bluewater event. Most foreign skippers spoke of the wind’s changeability, both in direction and speed, which repeatedly took them by surprise given the weather models they were relying on to navigate. Sail combinations had to be adjusted constantly in response, a major contributor to crew fatigue, especially for those whose race took four days plus.

Australian boat Patrice was the big winner in terms of the handicap swag, Tony Kirby’s Ker 46 staying in phase with the favourable weather at the head of the fleet and claiming the IRC overall trophy by 15 minutes on corrected time. Sailing for the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia, Patrice was also the most successful boat and crew under ORC scoring and Kirby says he’ll definitely return in two years to defend their crown.

Drew Carruthers’ Queensland 15m catamaran Rushour proved the dominant multihull once the breeze freshened, mowing down the all-women team on Ave Gitana (Sharon Ferris-Choat) and taking the double of fastest course time and corrected time, using a performance-based handicap. “I’ve sailed for the last 30 years and I will say New Caledonia is the most beautiful country I’ve ever sailed in!” Ferris-Choat declared at the daily stage presentation of crews.

Shane Kearns’ Australian S&S 34 Komatsu Azzurro finished at 11.37am on Saturday June 23, their sea time double that of the line honours victor, Graeme Wilson and William Goodfellow’s IRC 52-foot composite-built Miss Scarlet from Royal Akarana Yacht Club with French sporting hero Franck Cammas, America’s Cup skipper and Volvo Ocean Race winner, adding celebrity and speed.

Komatsu is an early 1980s vintage fibreglass-built ocean-racer which, for best performance, relies on a light-wind first half then the smaller boats being blown home. This Groupama seemed to punish the last handful of boats with an extended stretch of no breeze early on and headwinds for most of the west coast leg.

It was longer than we thought; and harder than we thought,” Kearns said on arrival. “Parts were frustrating and parts were fantastic sailing – it was yacht racing at its best. We had no problems with the boat, that’s the advantage of older guys, we don’t break or rip anything. We look after the boat, and it’s looking after us!

The Calédonien/Australian crew on Dove-Defi des filles, skippered by Lisa Blair, arrived Friday evening to a sudden South Pacific downpour just as the full female team were being gifted champagne and Polynesian inspired fresh floral necklaces. 

Overall the last Sydney Hobart was tough but I felt this was more exhausting…so many weather systems and options, and six days at sea is a long time to be pushing that hard,” Blair admitted. “It was lovely to see the east coast mountain ranges when we were inside the reef, and to be sailing in three metres of water seeing the coral underneath.” Next for Blair is her solo, unassisted around-Australia record attempt. 

In two years’ the CNC hope to host an even bigger edition of their flagship event. “We hope more competitors come to visit us next time; we will be happy to welcome them,” said Philippe Mazard, the organising club’s president. 

By Lisa Ratcliff/OCC

Dove-Defi des filles arrive at Port Moselle to flowers, champagne and rain
Dove-Defi des filles arrive at Port Moselle to flowers, champagne and rain Credit Matthias Balagny
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