At the age of just 39, Franck Cammas is already assured of his place in sailing history thanks to Groupama’s debut victory in the Volvo Ocean Race. Here we profile the charismatic French skipper for whom perfection is never good enough.
The unassuming Cammas is already a star in the sailing world thanks to a career bursting with world records and historic offshore sailing victories in events such as the Transat Jacques Vabre, the Route du Rhum and the ORMA trimaran world championships.
It’s easy to see why Cammas was picked to lead France’s first entry into the Volvo Ocean Race since Eric Tabarly’s La Poste competed in the 1993-94 Whitbread Round the World Race.
Now, more than three years after announcing the campaign alongside long term sponsors Groupama, Cammas has one more victory to add to his overflowing collection – the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12.
Cammas was born 1972 in Aix-en-Provence to parents Elaine and Yves, both teachers, before the family moved to Marseille.
Like many youngsters growing up in France, a country that holds sailing on the same level as major sports like football and rugby, Cammas learnt to sail when he was just 10 years old, taking to the waters of Marseille’s Vieux Port in an Optimist dinghy.
Two years of studying maths followed on from general education but the call of the sea was too much for the young Cammas, and so he began what was to become one of the most glittering sailing careers of recent times.
In 1997, at the age of 24, Cammas announced his arrival on the offshore sailing world stage with a win in the Figaro du Solitaire, a 1,600-mile race around Europe, beating many of France’s best solo sailors in the process.
Following the victory, Cammas signed a sponsorship deal with French insurance company Groupama that went on to become one of the most successful sporting sponsorship pairings of recent times.
Famed for his success in multihulls, Cammas decided to take his career down a different path in 2009, announcing a switch to monohulls for a shot at winning the Volvo Ocean Race.
He needed a crew — so set about surrounding himself with some of the top names in offshore sailing including Thomas Coville, Damian Foxall and Charles Caudrelier.
Two years of intense training and preparation followed as Cammas built and nurtured his team from the Groupama base in Lorient, Brittany.
All those hours of hard work laid the foundations for Groupama’s victory in the Volvo Ocean Race, with the team only finishing outside of the podium positions once in nine legs.
A poster boy to millions of young sailors in France and around the world, Cammas is the ultimate sportsman — humble and welcoming on land yet once at sea he displays the single-minded drive of man hell-bent on victory.
“Perfect is never good enough — we always can do better,” said Foxall. “I think that is symptomatic of working with Franck Cammas. It’s that demand for excellence and it has helped us all raise our game.”
Only with that ruthless streak can a skipper lead his team to victory in the Volvo Ocean Race — but Cammas’ total dedication can sometimes push his crews to the edge.
“I don’t joke with Franck,” said Jean-Luc Nélias, Groupama’s navigator and Cammas’ right-hand man. “The context isn’t right and he isn’t receptive. He isn’t an easy guy because he is a demanding guy, not an easy guy to live with. But, he is the boss so it’s up to me to adapt myself.”
It’s not just sailing that Cammas pours his boundless energy into – he’s a sports fanatic, with cycling and climbing top of his list of hobbies. Cammas managed to factor in competing in the Etape du Tour prior to the start of the Volvo Ocean Race, while in Itajaí, Brazil, he had planned a climb up a 6,000-metre mountain for his team that had to be put on hold when there mast broke within 1,000 miles of the finish line.
Before the Volvo Ocean Race even started, Cammas was awarded the Legion d’Honneur, France’s highest decoration, as well as the Grand Prix de Académie des Sports, an award reserved for top international sporting stars.
Will that now be followed by recognition at the ISAF World Sailor of the Year Awards? It seems only a matter of time.