2010: Duelling French Tri’s Demolish Trans-Atlantic Records

130’ Banque Populaire Covers 907 Nautical Miles in One Day!

When two of the fastest offshore multihulls in the world, 105’ Groupama III and 130’ Banque Populaire V, arrived in New York in early June and went on stand-by for an attempt on the trans-Atlantic record. The route from New York to Lizard Point in SW England is the oldest ocean racing course, first contested by clipper ships in the 1800s, then made famous by the steam-powered liners in the first half of the 20th century.

So the scene was set for an epic duel between these two maxi multis. In 2007, Groupama had set a new 24-hour record of 794 miles straight out of the gate, and completed the crossing in a stunning 4 days 3 hours 57 minutes—less than 100 hours of sailing! For Banque Populaire, the largest racing multihull in the world, launched less than a year ago, this was to be its first real test. But the skippers were in no hurry. Six weeks passed with the crews on stand-by back in France before their weather routiers had identified clear signs of a deep depression taking shape over eastern Canada.

As we all know, weather forecasting is an uncertain science, but this time the weathermen hit the jackpot, putting the sailors on the coat tails of a “perfect storm” for high-speed sailing. Realistically, nothing less would be capable of pushing them under the record time. Both boats set off within three hours of each other on July 30 in gusty SW winds. Their ambitious goal was to pick up the cold front off the Grand Banks and stay in the same quadrant of the depression the whole way, power reaching on starboard tack for the entire 2900 miles from the Ambrose light to Lizard Point in SW England.

In uncomfortable sailing conditions, mixing a choppy sea with a heavy fog, the two crews rapidly pciked up the pace to an average speed over 30 knots. That sounds impressive, but both boats were actually slower over the first day than Groupama in 2007. On the second day, they did indeed pick up the Canadian cold front and dipped south a few degrees following the depression, with their speed increasing into the mid-30 knot range.

Groupama, being some 80 miles in front, was the first to reach the deep Atlantic where the seas flattened out and the older boat showed that it was still up to the job. By the third day, the 800-mile barrier was broken by Franck Cammas and his crew under staysail and two reefs in the main. With Californian navigator Stan Honey keeping the boat in the red zone, they continued to lift that mark until the log maxed out at 857.5 nautical miles.

But Pascal Bidégorry and the new Banque Populaire with 25% more waterline were closing fast. Within a few hours, Groupama’s record and even the “800-mile barrier” had been completely eclipsed by a new 24 hour mark of 908 milles at an average speed of 37.8 knots. (That’s 1044 land miles in single day!) By then, it was apparent that the bigger newer boat had the raw speed to outrun the “pocket maxi” in this drag race.

Banque Populaire and its crew of 12 overcame their 2 ½ hour handicap and charged into the lead on the final day to reach Lizard Point in just 3 days, 15 hours, 25 minutes–an average speed of 32.94 knots, over half a day ahead of the old mark. The peak speed was 47.15 knots. Groupama took 3 days 18 hours 12 minutes, finishing just three miles astern of Banque Populaire, and beating its old time by 9 hours and 44 minutes.

Two hours and 47 minutes separated the two boats’ times, which had reached the entire way on starboard gybe. As is often the case, the wind was dropping at the end of the course and Groupama showed itself to be faster in winds below 20 knots, snatching back forty miles over the last twelve hours. The comeback by Cammas is a positive element when comparing the potential of the two trimarans. “Banque Populaire V has an impressive speed potential! We suspected she could go faster than Groupama 3 in these weather conditions,” Cammas said as he stepped onto dock.

Footnote: How fast is the new record? The title of fastest steamship on the North Atlantic—and holder of the coveted Blue Riband–was won by the original Queen Mary in 1938 with a crossing at an average speed of 31 knots. In 1952 the last and fastest liner ever built, the 990 ft S.S. United States (powered by steam turbines generating 248,000 hp) averaged 34.5 knots for the crossing. Banque Populaire averaged 33 knots—under sail!

    1. Cammas Comments on Groupama’s Crossing

Cammas was a bit surprised by just how fast BP V sailed. “They’ve driven their boat very, very fast. Bravo to Pascal and his crew! Nevertheless I’m surprised by their speed: they were conditions which suited them, but they pushed the boat close to her maximum for a very long time. It’s their first record and it’s superb for them. One thing for sure is that we’re more at ease in relation to them in less than twenty knots than in twenty five knots of breeze!”

When asked to compare the performance of the two boats, Cammas said: “We know there are conditions where they go faster, particularly close-hauled. We have a different philosophy with a shorter, lighter boat. Downwind we should go better… In this crossing, they went faster 70% of the time.Going round the world, a lot can happen…: we’re going to have to be more cunning in the Jules Verne Trophy where there is more weather strategy than in the North Atlantic attempt….”

First Success for Banque Populaire

‘I don’t yet really realize what we have just accomplished,” said skipper Pascal Bidégorry just after the team crossed the finish line at Lizard Point. “I could barely conceive we could go that fast in 24 hours. But this new record comes as a reward for three years of intense work by the entire team: the shore crew, the design team, the architects and the whole team from Banque Populaire. I am extremely happy to offer them the 24-hour run and the new North-Atlantic as gifts. Now we are only few months away from the third: the Jules Verne Trophy.

Building the Fastest Boat in the World

Groupe Banque Populaire have been sponsoring trimarans since 1989. After the demise of the 60’ racing class in 2005, they embarked on an ocean records campaign with their skipper Pascal Bidégorry. At that time, the largest ocean racing multihull in the world was the 120’ catamaran Orange II that held the triple crown of sailing records: the 24-hour, trans-Atlantic and Jules Verne (51 days). The bank commissioned the renowned architects Van Peteghem – Lauriot Prévost (VPLP) to work with Bidégorry and the Cherbourg shipyard JMV Industries to design a platform that could capture all three of those records.

The bank’s brief was for a boat that would be “cutting edge, versatile, high-performance, seaworthy and safe.” After several months of research, the team settled on a 40-metre (131 foot) trimaran. The shear scale of this boat required the work be sub-contracted to three locations in NW France in Cherbourg, La Rochelle and Lorient (rather like the new Boeing plane).

In January 2007, work started on the construction of the central hull and particularly the mold. In October 2007, a trailer almost 50 meters in length took to the road to bring the central hull from Cherbourg to Lorient. At the beginning of September, the two half shells of the main element of this superb machine were assembled. It took another year, and 250,000 man hours of work from 170 people to complete the project. It was finally ready to launch 20 months after the start in August 2008.

On September 14, 2008 the Maxi Banque Populaire V men left their Brittany base for the first time on a long offshore sea trial aimed not only at deepening their knowledge of the boat but also at cruising to Cadiz, Spain—the departure point for the Discovery (Columbus) Route, the first of the record attempts on the team’s program. In spite of two months of waiting, no weather window deigns to open for the sailors, who make the most of their time by testing the maxi trimaran on multi-day sea trials.

Skipper Bidégorry grew up in the Pyrenees mountains (the French Basque country). He won the 1995 Rookie Championship in the Figaro Class. Since then, he won the Solitaire du Figaro in 2000, joined Franck Cammas’ crew onboard the 60’ ORMA Groupama I, became the skipper of Banque Populaire III and IV, and won the ORMA World Championship in 2005. “Franck and I go way back!” he says. “We’ve raced each other on the Figaro circuit. When he left the circuit in 1997, I went on for another 3 years and ultimately won the Solitaire du Figaro in 2000. When his 60’ tri Groupama was launched in 1999, he came to get me to go sailing with him. Which was very interesting because, once more, I had the opportunity to learn a lot. The experience that I’ve been able to get through Franck was very useful!”

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