After eight epic months of gruelling work at sea French yachting team Groupama have been declared the overall winner of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-2012. Swide’s Hugo Mc Cafferty caught up with team tactician and charming Frenchman Laurent Pages, who despite the previous night’s celebrations was walking on air.
Sweeping past the bonfires lit on the Aran islands in the dead of night Groupama came in Galway Bay to a crowd of over 20,000, in second place in the ninth and penultimate leg of the epic Volvo Ocean Race which as enough to give Skipper Frank Cammas France’s second victory in the 39-year history of the off-shore race. An in-port race to run today will decide second place but the champagne has already been flowing freely for the French.
Not only can they celebrate the win, the fashion in which they did so will give extra satisfaction. One stop over before the podium finish in Galway Bay and the race was wide open with anyone of four boats still in contention. A strong finish from Groupama was the difference, but it had to be. Eight months and 63,000 km ago things looked very different, the first leg was a low point for Groupama as tactical decisions led to less favourable conditions for crossing the equator and were it not for Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing and Team Sanya’s misfortune Gropupama may well have finished further down that third on the first leg.
But adaptability has proved to be this team’s strong point and combined with a punishing work ethic they dug deep, improving as they went along in the second half of the race and finishing strongly. Team tactician Laurent Pages descibes what happened.
You finished very strongly in the Volvo Race, but it didn’t start too well for you…
Yes, well it’s a very long progression and build up to the race, we started two years before with construction of the boat, strategy, sailing equipment etc. there are many things to go before so at the beginning you don’t really know where you’re standing compared to the others you are just expecting at that point to have a good sailing team, and for sure when we started our campaign we had a difficult first race, in the first leg because the strategic move we tried was actually a wrong move and it cost a lot of miles so we arrived in Cape Town after this first leg in some ways we were quite happy but definitely not in the right mood for what the Volvo in terms of risk management and how to make the right decisions in terms of tactic and strategy.
We worked hard during this race, working on our weak points to improve them and for sure there were learning curves throughout the race, which show the work we’ve done. We’ve probably been the team that worked the hardest , any time-out from sailing we were trying to learn, to try different things, and to work very hard.
This a strong character trait, we always tried to push harder and try to get better, we did that very well. One of the things I’m really proud of throughout this race was the ability we had to improve our skills during the race and get better and better and we finished very strongly in the race in the last four months.
As the tactician, your job involves a lot of planning, but are there some things you just can’t plan for?
One of the first things we had to improve a lot was our positioning in how we could get the right positioning in the start, it’s so important to start well to build up speed and to immediately take the right position compared to the other boats around us. It was always a key point.
So that’s one thing, to find out what’s going to be the best position, it’s another thing to achieve it. That’s something we worked on and we found together, every man is very important on this boat but one of the key roles is the tactician who could decide some manouvere to improve positioning compared to the others, that’s something we improved upon greatly.
The last thing which was key on this boat and under such a race course and in tough conditions is to be very accurate on your ley lines and then you need to practice again and again because you need to be very fine tuned on you ley lines sometimes they become a little bit far away so you have to be sure that you are watching your mark. These were the three key points to put the crew in the best environment for doing the best manouvres and the right positioning approaching the mark, that’s the tricky thing. As tactician I had to work on improving our efficiency in racing.
Are you the most experienced crew member?
I wouldn’t say that…. I’m probably the one with the most in-shore experience, as a tactician. I’ve done the last Volvo Ocean Race also and we had a lot of French experience; French off-shore experience, which is very different from what the Volvo Ocean Race standard is and which was very valuable experience. One of the strategic decisions in the very early stages of the campaign was to build a team which would be a good mix between Volvo Ocean Race people, in-shore experienced people and French off-shore sailors and we tried to build something that would be a very rich mix to try and get the best from the group.
As a Frenchman this must be a very proud moment for you….
Yes definitely. I am very proud, we are all very proud…. I’m not sure we realise exactly what we’ve done but we can just look behind us and see all the work we’ve done over the last three years. For sure, we were not considered as a favourite team at the beginning of the race but we were considered a strong team with a lot of spirit and that’s a very good feeling to get through the race and win the race with so little in it at the end. This is the Holy Grail for a sailor, it’s really any sailor’s dream.
A bit of a break!! And we’ll see for the next Volvo, things are still under discussion with the teams but we’ll be looking at a new boat and a single design fleet so it’s going to be fresh, but it’s a bit early to be talking abut the next Volvo. In the mean time I’m going to get back to doing what I love which is in-shore racing or there will be some off-shore races in the Med. It has been great racing, a great pleasure, a fantastic boat to give us the chance to share our Volvo experiences and learning with special people.
After eight months of hard sailing and now finally on dry land, you get the impression that Laurent can’t wait to get back out to sea again and race. This a moan consumed with a passion for sailing and right now a sailor at the absolute peak of world sailing.
By Hugo Mc Cafferty