Thursday, 29 July 2010

Extreme 40s: Gitana Team - Edmond de Rothschild Group back down to business

Gitana team winning in Sète. Image copyright Vincent Curutchet/DPPI/OC Events.

by Kate Jennings

Two months after their victory in Sète, Yann Guichard and his crew aboard Edmond de Rothschild Group are back on the Isle of Wight to compete in the Extreme Sailing Series circuit for the second event of the season. Act II begins this Saturday 31st July, with the results decided on Thursday 5th August. This year the English stage is introducing some new elements on every front: teams will do battle for six rather than four days of races, in line with the classic Grand Prix format, so as to integrate perfectly into the famous Cowes Week. Such a format will also enable teams to enjoy some more varied race days with a long race in the morning and some small round the cans races in the second half of the afternoon. In short, an even spicier spectacle, to that already witnessed in the South of France at the end of May.

Cowes, the Mecca of international yachting

Nestled in the South of England, just a few nautical miles from Southampton, the Isle of Wight is the cradle of yachting. It was here in 1851 that the America’s Cup was born. The British members of the Royal Yacht Squadron challenged the Americans to a race around the Isle of Wight for the Universal Exposition of London; the American schooner taking victory. Twenty-five years earlier, in 1826, Cowes Week was created; an annual gathering for thousands of racers, which today ranks as the oldest yacht race in the world. It is within this prestigious context, steeped in history, that the second event in the Extreme Sailing Series 2010 will take place.

“Cowes – and the Isle of Wight in general – is an enchanting place, especially given the fact that we’re lucky enough to be sailing during Cowes Week and will be able to mix it up with our high-tech catamarans and the host of other yachts which are as varied as they are prestigious. The hundreds of boats, which race on the waters of the Solent on a daily basis, and the thousands of sailors who join together each evening to chat about the day’s racing, is a unique and really impressive spectacle!” admitted Yann Guichard.

Winners of the opening event in Sète at the end of May, Yann Guichard and his crew are eagerly awaited at Cowes, where they rank among the favourites. It’s a label the Gitana skipper and his crew shoulder in a relaxed, albeit determined manner: “In the Extreme Sailing Series every race is specific and winning one event doesn’t systematically imply that you’ll perform well in the next one. We’re highly motivated, keen to sail cleanly and enjoy ourselves on the water. With the first two Grands Prix being relatively far apart, two months separating the two events, it’ll be good to get into the thick of the action again.” Let there be no mistake about it though; the two months which have just elapsed have been far from restful for Yann Guichard and the members of the Gitana Team.

Fronting both the Gitana 11 and the Extreme Edmond de Rothschild Group’s sports projects, Baron Benjamin de Rothschild’s team has been putting in a lot of time on the water aboard the 77 foot maxi-trimaran, along with monitoring her fine tuning with a view to the next Route du Rhum. Yann Guichard has been able to link together a series of solo sails offshore, as well as completing the qualifier required by the organisers. Suffice to say that it’s a well honed sailor who will take the helm of Edmond de Rothschild Group this Saturday.

Headsails entrusted to Thierry Fouchier for the Cowes Grand Prix

Committed to other races for a considerable time, Hervé Cunningham will be replaced by Thierry Fouchier during this Cowes Week. It’s a crew change that Yann Guichard is very calm about: “We’ll be welcoming a new crew member aboard Edmond de Rothschild Group – Thierry Fouchier – who will replace Hervé Cunningham. We’ll have a single day – during the media day on Friday – to familiarise ourselves with this new configuration, but Thierry isn’t just anyone… He’s not a novice in the Extreme Sailing Series either since he crewed for us last year too.”

Indeed the sailor from Marseille is a great multihull specialist and was one of the most sought-after crew during the time of the Orma Class Grands prix. From there he went on to the Decision 35 and then the Extreme 40, with a vast array of different experiences on a variety of different hulls. His expertise led him to one of his finest rides of all time back in February, when he became the first French sailor to win the America’s Cup on the water as crew aboard the trimaran BMW Oracle. At that stage Thierry was responsible for trimming the famous rigid wing, of which great reams of text were written, as well as the headsails. Nicknamed “Fouch”, this talented sailor is a legend in the position the Gitana skipper has entrusted him with!

Gitana team racing off Sète. Image copyright Vincent Curutchet/DPPI/OC Events.

The Wight nine

In Cowes, the catamaran fitted out by Baron Benjamin will do battle with eight teams, among which a total of seven teams were also present in Sète. However, a third French crew will be adding its name to the list, bringing the number of pretenders for victory on English waters to nine: Roland Jourdain, better known for his solo circumnavigations of the globe aboard a monohull, will be at the helm of an Extreme 40 for the first time.

On Friday, during the special day reserved for the media, the crew of Edmond de Rothschild group will gently take its marks after the two month break, where it will be able to gauge the true scale of the opposition prior to the start of official hostilities scheduled for the following morning. “In Sète, we were able to get a precise idea of the potential of our adversaries and I made a bet that the crews were going to up the ante in terms of power. I particularly have the two Omani boats in mind as they put up a great performance in the first event and have done a lot of training since that time. Groupama and Ecover also stand a good chance as their performances in Sète demonstrated that they’re up to scratch. There’s a uniform level amongst the competitors and in the various conditions that the waters of the Solent dish up, the week promises to be competitive and hotly contested!”

Final ranking of the Grand Prix of Sète on 30th May (after 20 races)
1. Edmond de Rothschild Group (Yann Guichard) - 131 points
2. Oman Sail Masirah (Loïck Peyron) - 116 points
3. The Wave, Muscat (Paul Campbell-James) – 101 points
4. Ecover Sailing Team (Mike Golding) - 98 points
5. Groupama 40 (Franck Cammas) - 91 points
6. The Ocean Racing Club (Mitch Booth) - 81 points
7. Red Bull Extrême Sailing (Roman Hagara) - 81 points
8. Team GAC Pindar (Nick Moloney) - 55 points

Provisional ranking for the Extreme Sailing Series (after 1 GP)
1. Edmond de Rothschild Group (Yann Guichard) - 8 points
2. Oman Sail Masirah (Loïck Peyron) - 7 points
3. The Wave, Muscat (Paul Campbell-James) – 6 points
4. Ecover Sailing Team (Mike Golding) - 5 points
5. Groupama 40 (Franck Cammas) - 4 points
6. The Ocean Racing Club (Mitch Booth) - 3 points
7. Red Bull Extrême Sailing (Roman Hagara) - 2 points
8. Team GAC Pindar (Nick Moloney) - 1 point

The crew of Edmond de Rothschild Group:
Yann Guichard - Skipper, helm
Pierre Pennec – Mainsail trimmer
Thierry Fouchier – Headsail trimmer
Nicolas Heintz – Bowman

The Extreme Edmond de Rothschild Group is supporting the Peace Parks Foundation.

Gitana Team
Extreme Sailing Series