The history of France in the America's Cup
Fascinated by the America's Cup, that he had fervently being following since 1964 and that pushed him to buy Kurrewa V (re-christened Ikra in 1976) sistership to Sovereign (a David Boyd's design from 1963), Baron Bich devoted himself totally to the AC challenge in 1967. He created the AFCA (Association Française pour la Coupe d'América) and acquired two 12 Metres: Constellation from the USA and Britain's Sovereign. Usually, the American defender only accepted one challenger but Baron Bich managed to persuade the New York Yacht Club that, if more yacht clubs put forward their challenge, they could have selections series before facing the Defender.
Marcel Bich chooses French naval architect André Mauric, who is fresh from the successes of the series-built Challenger and the half tonner Super Challenger. But he also asks Britton Chance to design a 12Metres, Chancegger , that will act as a “sparring partner” for the French boat. The challenger's team, based in Hyères and later in La Trinité, can count on three crews and three skippers/helmsmen: Louis Noverraz, Poppie Delfour et Jean-Marie Le Guillou.
On August 21, 1970 France faces Gretel II, the Australian boat owned by Sir Franck Packer but loses. Poppie Delfour then takes the place of Louis Noverraz at the helm but, despite a very close race, is also forced to bow to the Australians. So, the baron decides to steer the boat himself and elects Éric Tabarly to the role of navigator. Despite a thick fog the Race Committee fires the starting signal, France gets lost in the murk while the Australian crew make it to the finish using their goniometer only...
Baron Bich is not deterred and in 1974 asks Dane Paul Elvström to guide the team, that can count on three boats: Constellation, Chancegger and France. Step by step, the Scandinavian olympic champion imposes on the French skippers The Mauric's designed boat is going to be dismasted during a storm in the Kiel canal and the “war” between the Dane and the French is declared, the latter only being able to admit defeat. They still manage to convince the Baron, who stops the construction of France II and confirms French Soling specialist Jean-Marie Le Guillou in the role of helmsman on board France.
France must face the Australians on Southern Cross, a boat designed by Bob Miller (later to be known as Ben Lexcen) that proves to be very fast. Despite some good starts, Mauric's design cannot keep the pace and loses five matches in a row. Yet, the baron announces that he will be on the starting line again in 1977!
André Mauric had already designed a new 12M in 1974, which never saw the light because of the “Danish opposition”, but the architect from Marseille is going full-throttle: he created the half-tonner Impensable, the three-quarter tonner Tadorne -the first IOR boat with a fractioned rig- and 33 Export, Kriter V et Kriter VIII, Neptune and Pen Duick VI for the round-the-world race. Yet, the 12 Metres have changed a lot in three years' time and the team members heavily modify the original plans. The old Constellation holds its own pace while Bruno Troublé is so fast helming France that he is chosen to take part to the selection series in Newport.
France is opposed to Australia, another plan by Ben Lexcen, but never represents a challenge for the Aussies, and never manages to be in front. As a result France is out of the match after four losses. Marcel Bich does not give up and orders a new boat, France III for the 1980 America's Cup. The older 12 Metres is used as a pacesetter for trials in Hyères and undergoes a refit to be ready for a new challenge in 1987, that will never be raced. Only then Baron Bich desists and retires after four unsuccessful attempts...