"When Damian is on a project, it is often the winning one. As such, it is better to have him with us rather than against us."
That tribute to Damian Foxall comes from Franck Cammas, renowned amongst the top sailors in the world. In France his sporting fame lies somewhere between rock star and iconic status. He has a record-breaking career. This year he added two world races to his achievements, the Jules Verne Trophy and the Route du Rhumm.
Ireland's Offshore Ace Damian Foxall has joined Groupama for the next Ocean Race
He races "anything and everything that floats" and his reputation is so strong that the huge worldwide Groupama insurance company has committed over a decade of sponsorship support to his projects. In return he has carried their name on a winning partnership with five world records amongst the list of successes. That kind of dedication from a backer is almost unheard of in any sport and has provided the financial muscle to confirm that Camas will lead the entry of boats into the Volvo Ocean Race around the world until 2015.
"Our commitment is to a race that, given its longevity on the circuit, has a human dimension and an international relevance," said Groupama Managing Director Jean Azéma. "We chose the Volvo to promote our image and share the benefit with Franck Cammas who is a sporting icon. Both of us, through the boat named Groupama, are interested in the values of building a boat, a sport and a reputation, with human interest. This is something that will last."
That huge commitment contrasts with the on-going financial struggle to enter an Irish boat. Damian, who crewed the last Irish entry, the Green Dragon, is no longer available, having been given a huge endorsement and tribute by Cammas who chose him first as an essential part of the Groupama entry.
He named the Kerryman, from Derrynane, as the first sailor he wanted aboard. Foxall, at the age of 41, is arguably the most French of Irishmen. Now resident in Lorient, he has taken part in three Volvo Ocean Races and won the last Barcelona two-crew non/stop round-the-world race with Jean-Pierre Dick.
He has been appointed to three responsibilities, as Helmsman, Trimmer and Crew Manager and is enthusiastic about going around the world for a sixth time, having also been part of a non/stop world speed record:
"I have been involved with Franck since the outset of this entry. The greatest challenge is to drive Groupama 4 at one hundred per cent of her potential at each of the nine stages of the race, with very little time during the stopovers. In a nine-month race fatigue accumulates. At the end, you really feel that you've done a circumnavigation of the globe."
Damian has worked alongside Cammas to select the sailing crew for next year's race. They include top international sailing names: Philip Harmer, Magnus Woxén, Jean-Luc Nélias, Charles Caudrelier, Sébastien Josse, Yann Riou, Jacques Caraës, Martin Krite, Brad Marsh, Martin Strömberg, Erwan Israël and Sébastien Marsset.
The Groupama project bought the winning boat in the last Volvo Race, the Volvo 70, Ericsson 4, which they rechristened, Groupama 70 and which they have been using for training. That shows their financial resources.
For the design of Groupama 4, their new boat for the 2011 event which will start next October, they turned to Juan Koujoumdjian, who was involved in building the last two winning Volvo boats, Ericsson 4 and ABN Amro One. The design is being tested in sailing trials off Lorient in Brittany where the team is based and which is Foxall's home base.
Cammas has put together a strong Groupama Sailing Team, with Foxall's input. Another Green Dragon sailor has been chosen as Pitman, Master Sailmaker and to back-up Damian as Helmsman and Trimmer. He is Australian Phil Harmer for whom this will be his third Volvo: "I feel really lucky to be in the Groupama Team. I sailed with Damian on Green Dragon and he called me to ask me to join. Since then I've had other offers, but I don't want to leave Groupama. There's a strong sense of involvement and no other team is in a position to do better."
This article is reprinted by permission of the EVENING ECHO newspaper, Cork, where Tom MacSweeney writes maritime columns twice weekly. Evening Echo website: www.eecho.ie