VIDEO: France become the sixth team to sail in the 37th America’s Cup

The Orient Express Racing Team base at the western end of the Port Vell became an operational sailing base with the maiden sail of their new AC40 replete with its eye-catching blue and gold livery to match the sailing talent onboard. The anniversary of the first running of what would become the America’s Cup back in 1851 was a fitting day to launch – history was all around.

Quentin Delapierre and Kevin Peponnet took charge of the AC40, supported by trimmers/Flight Controllers Matthieu Vandamme and Jason Saunders on a short, light air session just off the beachfront where the current weather pattern of very high land temperatures and a transition zone all around the Barcelona area trapped between two weather systems has caused an almost glass-out sea-state, delivering sub-normal breezes.

Undeterred the team splashed and locked in sails to a round of applause from the shore crew, management and supporters as the sailors and tech teams familiarised themselves with the launch protocols and rig settings before setting out of the Port Vell to try and catch some late zephyrs to get flying. One Design sails were raised with the biggest J1 up front and a fast tow out of the port and along the Barceloneta gave the crew plenty of time to dial into the foil settings before the tow-line was spiked and a whole new chapter in French sailing began.

Straight out of the box, the French sailors looked comfortable and had just enough breeze to maintain flight on the one-design set-up once released from the RIB and, sailing on auto-pilot, they began learning the nuances, dialling in a smidge of windward heel at times and playing with ride height. It was only a few runs, but the significance was huge. France are back at the top table.

Speaking afterwards, a beaming Quentin Delapierre came to the recon interview, full of enthusiasm but with a clear message for the team: “We just need to take it step by step, take the days after days and just solve problems, find ideas, new ideas will be helpful, and yeah I don’t want the team to rush themselves and try to like catch the others because they are, I mean, so many sailing sessions in front of us and we just have to make it simple, be really focused on what are the essentials and yeah make it happen in Villanova with the boat in good shape and able to just race the Villanova racing.”

Talking about what it was like to be aboard the Orient Express Racing Team AC40, Quentin added: “Yeah, a pretty good feeling actually. It’s been one and a half weeks since we received the AC40, and the team had a big push just to the commissioning and solve the little problem we had, so really good feeling today to sail the boat…today I was surprised, really flat water but also really light so we just managed to foil, I mean get on the foil, and with the RIB towing the yacht we were able to do it and the feeling onboard was really good but I know that in Barcelona will not be the same every day, we will have choppy waves and some swells so yeah we have to be prepared for those conditions but I’m really impressed about the autopilot I never saw something like this, the boat was really steady, and yeah really impressed.”

The Orient Express Team are keen to gain as many hours on the water as possible to bridge the experience gap to the other teams and as Quentin said, the next few weeks will be intense: “I mean we need some sailing session a lot just to feel okay with the boat, the feeling on the boat and the attitude. Yeah, I think next week and this week there will be a lot of sailing sessions!”

France’s history in the America’s Cup can be traced back to July 1851, a full month before the first race around the Isle of Wight on August 22nd, 1851, with the yacht ‘America’ being fitted out at a government shipyard in Le Havre before setting sail to beat the best of the British fleet. It wasn’t until 1968 however, until the mercurial Baron Bich first started to get involved in the competition, although he waited until 1970 to launch the first challenge under the ‘Tricolour’ flag of France. Challenges from France came thick and fast through the period of the 12 Metre era, into the IACC generation and then into the catamarans in Bermuda. For 2021, the French chose not to enter but now they are back with an exciting, youthful and very determined challenge that is seeking to bridge the experience gap at sailing apex event and take race wins along the way.

Led by Stephan Kandler, the Orient Express Racing Team is under no illusions just how hard it will be to be competitive at the upcoming Preliminary Regatta in Vilanova i La Geltrú, but the French are renowned as being some of the best racing sailors in the world and with the current generation of talent supported by experienced heads in the team such as Franck Cammas, the learning curve will be steep but rewarding.

Speaking about the challenge before them, Stephan commented: “Sailing our AC40 is a major milestone for Orient Express Racing Team. It is very exciting and I’m extremely proud of the team – everyone has really pulled together to get the boat on the water and in the hands of the sailors as quickly as possible. We have come a long way in the eight months since welcoming our title sponsor Accor Group and its brands Orient Express and onboard which allowed us to challenge for the 37th America’s Cup. We’ve been training with our simulator since the beginning of June, we’ve selected our challenger squads for the America’s Cup, the Puig Women’s America’s Cup and the Youth America’s Cup and we are flat-out building our AC75. This unique platform and team of experts is also enabling us to develop innovative technologies and R&D projects with a view to the ecological transition of mobility. While we know we have a lot of work to do, we have a positive outlook and the right people in the right positions within our tightknit team.”

Team Coach, Thierry Douillard, also added: “The conditions were very light today, but we had just enough to get on the foils twice, and we managed to do some sailing and tick off what we wanted to achieve so it has been a very positive first day. Of course, we have a huge amount to learn, but it was a good first step. We’re looking forward to more typical conditions as the week evolves, so we are green light go!”

As Thierry says, more productive foiling days are just around the corner but the sight of the French back in the America’s Cup is a very welcome one that will be fascinating to watch as their innovative programme develops.

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