When you’re riding high, everything seems to go your way, and that’s how the in-port Race in Bretagne, France, played out. Large crowds cheered on local hero Franck Cammas and Groupama as they mastered the upwind/downwind course off Lorient.
Camper barely hung on to beat Puma for second place, but that victory mattered. It closed the overall Volvo Ocean Race gap between second and third to four points heading into Leg 9, a 550-mile sprint to Galway, Ireland.
Leading by 25 points over Puma, Groupama needed to finish only fourth to claim overall victory.
Across the Channel
Ideal sailing conditions were the order of the day for the start of Leg 9, the shortest leg of the race. Blasting along at over 20 knots, the fleet quickly covered the 6.5-mile in-shore course, then headed into the treacherous Bay of Biscay.
Home at Last: The Final Scoreboard
Abu Dhabi 131
The final leg was all about picking the right sails for the wildly fluctuating conditions. And not making mistakes.
A few hours into the leg, rainsqualls descended. Mainsails were quickly reefed as fierce winds and waves battered the fleet.
The first daring breakaway came when Puma sailed to the west of Ile de Sein, a tiny island off the western tip of France.
Camper led the pack across the stormy English Channel as darkness descended. Up ahead lay the Leg 9 exclusion zone, a perilous no-sail area encompassing the busiest shipping channel in the world.
At this point, only a mile separated first from fourth place. Puma and Groupama were to the west and Camper and Telefónica to the east as the fleet entered the notorious Celtic Sea, where the ocean recoils off the continental shelf and radiates with jackhammer waves.
The Light of Day
After a nasty night at sea, Telefónica held a tenuous lead. Camper was a half-mile astern as the sun rose and the fleet approached the next waypoint, the infamous Fastnet Rock, the most southerly point of Ireland.
Puma’s westerly route paid off. The black cat rounded Fastnet Rock a minute ahead of Telefónica, with Camper and Groupama less than five minutes behind.
Rounding Blasket Island on the southwest tip of Ireland, the boats raced downwind along the west coast, passing the misty Aran Islands, their towering dark cliffs guarding the entrance to Galway Bay at the breathtaking Eiragh lighthouse.
Now it was a four-boat match.
Puma sailed the shortest route straight up the middle of the bay, while her rivals took slightly different lines, hoping to catch a little more wind or less current.
With 125 miles to go, Puma was a few hundred yards ahead of Camper.
Hamish Hooper aboard Camper set the final stage. “We have been sailing along some of the most stunning coastline I have seen anywhere in the world. It is rugged and cold and harsh — the perfect backdrop for the final fight of this leg.”
The other boats carried lots of equipment to stack on deck for the bumpy ride across the English Channel. Camper skipper Chris Nicholson, however, was convinced the race would be won in the last 30 miles. The weather forecast predicted a warm front would pass through in the wee hours of the last morning, delivering dying winds. So Camper was traveling light. The huge A4 light-wind spinnaker hoisted by this boat alone made the difference when the winds petered out.
Edging In; Edged Out
After so many heartbreakingly close finishes, Camper saved the best for last, snagging its first leg victory and leapfrogging ahead of Puma for second place overall.
Groupama finished seven minutes behind Camper. Puma finished third, followed by a disappointed Telefónica.
Groupama was the first team to represent France in the race since Eric Tabarly’s La Poste in 1993-’94 and only the second French winners.
Special kudos to the 100,000 Irish loonies who greeted the boats at 2:30 in the morning, fired up on Guinness and cheering wildly as Mike Sanderson and the never-say-die crew of Sanya, in the only Volvo retread, edged out Abu Dhabi after finishing last in every race.
With the overall Volvo Race winner decided, the Galway in-port race determined who got to raise the Volvo In-Port Trophy. Camper and Puma were tied at 39 points, one point ahead of Groupama.
On a rainy day in the Emerald Isle, Ken Read and Puma led from wire to wire in the shifty flat water, taking the 10th and final Volvo In-Port Race, ahead of Camper and Telefónica, to secure the in-port series trophy by one point.