Francis Joyon and his crew of five took the decision yesterday morning to turn back after six days of sailing in their attempt at the round the world record. Aboard IDEC SPORT, they are heading for Brest to await a better opportunity to conquer the Jules Verne Trophy.
After what was a more than satisfying start until the Cape Verde Islands, the maxi-trimaran IDEC SPORT found herself taken prisoner in the Doldrums, which were very active and expanding in front of them. Even experienced sailors like Francis Joyon, Bernard Stamm, Alex Pella and Boris Herrmann were surprised by the situation.
Francis Joyon looks back at this episode for us. “Aboard the red and grey bird, we are approaching the Doldrums feeling upbeat after these first few days at sea. We’re on schedule and our virtual rival is alongside us on the tracker. The weather models and satellite photos indicate a fairly rapid crossing of the 200 miles separating the winds in the North and South Atlantic. We’re entering a zone of leaden skies and heavy rain, but feeling quietly confident.”
“If you total up the experience of the six of us, you’re looking at several dozen crossings of this zone. But it is hell out here with rain that is getting heavier and heavier leaving several centimetres of water on the deck, while the skies are so black that it’s like night. Sudden violent gusts hit us, and we have to sail downwind for a few minutes before finding the sails flapping with no wind at all.”
Under full sail in the dark just to get out of there
“That was just the introduction to the thirty hours that would follow. I can remember one particular moment at night with Alex at the helm under full mainsail and big gennaker, when we were forced to run downwind in 40 knots of wind. This wasn’t one big gust, but wind that lasted a fairly long time, to the extent that we wondered how long it would be before the boat capsized if it got any worse. Under full sail in the dark with sails wide open, we sped along in the dark without paying attention to the route, just to get away from the worst. Last time Alex found himself in such a situation, aboard a MOD70 a few months ago, (Musandam Oman Sail – Transat Quebec/Saint-Malo, editor’s note), the wind proved too strong for the boat to keep her balance and she suddenly went over with Alex trapped under the net. It was a very lucky escape for him and this experience has strengthened his courage. Then, there were the calms with the trimaran drifting at 1 knot, a snail’s pace.”
Heading north to Brittany for another start
“The skipper’s mood sank as did that of the crew that are usually so upbeat. We saw the hours slipping by. Hours when we should have been hopping onto a low a long way south, which was heading for the Cape of Good Hope without us. The following morning we should have been in the SE’ly trade winds, but it was too late. The stopwatch, usually on our side, was against us, so all we could do was head north to go back across the Doldrums and towards Brittany to give it another go later. There’s no getting away from the Doldrums…”
It was at 21:14:45 UTC on Sunday 20th November that Francis Joyon and his crew crossed the start line for the Jules Verne Trophy, the outright round the world sailing record, on IDEC SPORT. “All we can see is the Créac’h Lighthouse. It’s pitch black. But we have the impression that this is the start of something big,” commented Francis Joyon, the skipper of IDEC SPORT, who was in a hurry not to avoid the weather opportunity ahead of the bows of the 31m long trimaran.
24 knots crossing the line
Francis Joyon, Bernard Stamm, Alex Pella, Gwénolé Gahinet, Clément Surtel and Boris Herrmann left the harbour in Brest shortly before 1845 UTC. They had intended to wait a while in the light airs at the centre of the low before making the most of some powerful and favourable winds generated to the west of this system. The weather however meant they did not have to remain patient for long, as they ended up crossing the line much earlier than scheduled. This commando force of exceptional sailors set off on Sunday to break the record, propelled along at 24 knots after a change of headsail over the line between the Le Créac’h lighthouse on Ushant and The Lizard at the SW tip of Britain.
The situation is very unusual for a record attempt and this is a first for Francis Joyon. The voyage is beginning with light airs, but northerly gales are on their way to the tip of Brittany. This is the system that Francis and his router, Marcel van Triest have been looking at. The skipper hopes to pick up these winds later this Monday morning to speed across the Bay of Biscay and get to the trade winds off Portugal and the Canaries without hitch.
The first few hours were more of a slow trot as they make their way across a ridge, where there are light winds and calms. So the maxi trimaran is practically stopped waiting for the big blow to head towards the SW. As usual, the sea state will determine how fast they can go. The storms which swept across Western France this weekend led to a heavy swell, but this has eased and is in the same direction as the wind, so it should not be too much of a problem for the multihull.
Same people to try again
After making an initial attempt last year and getting ever so close to the record, the crew of IDEC SPORT has set off in the same configuration as last time. There is no point in changing such a fantastic combination. To smash the record set by Loïck Peyron and his crew of thirteen dating back to January 2012 and see his name in the record books for the eighth time, Francis Joyon along with his crew of five must return to cross this same line between Brittany and Cornwall by 10:56:38 UTC on 5th January 2017.
They will all be there again ready to sail around the world, as soon as the opportunity presents itself. Maybe in late October, but in any case, “as early as possible,” declared Francis Joyon. In particular, because “there aren’t many of these opportunities between October and February” and by setting off early in the season, there is a greater likelihood of moving from one system to another on the final climb back up the Atlantic. Taking advantage of their first round the world voyage together, when they pulled off some remarkable achievements (Indian Ocean record, in particular) but above all, experienced an extraordinary human adventure, the six sailors on IDEC SPORT are going to do it all over again, hoping that they will be luckier this time and grab the record held by Loïck Peyron’s crew since 2012 – 45 days, 13 hours, 42 minutes and 53 seconds.
The Jules Verne Trophy now belongs to ten men who have sailed around the globe at an average of 18.76 knots along the optimum course, beating the reference time set by Orange 2 in 2005 by 2 days 08 hours 35 minutes. Franck Cammas and his men crossed the finish line off the Créac’h lighthouse at Ushant (Finistère) at 21h40’45” UTC Saturday 20th March. They are due to make the Port du Château in Brest at around 0900 UTC tomorrow.
The skipper Franck Cammas, navigator Stan Honey, watch leaders Fred Le Peutrec and Steve Ravussin, helmsmen/trimmers Loïc Le Mignon, Thomas Coville and Lionel Lemonchois, and the three bowmen Bruno Jeanjean, Ronan Le Goff and Jacques Caraës, supported on shore by router Sylvain Mondon, have pulled it off: they have beaten the round the world record under sail via the three capes!
In 48 days 07 hours 44 minutes, Groupama 3 has certainly had her highs and lows, as she hasn’t always been ahead of the reference time set by Bruno Peyron and his crew in 2005. On the contrary! The giant trimaran had a deficit of just over 500 miles in relation to Orange 2 and was only able to beat the Jules Verne Trophy record thanks to a dazzling final sprint from the equator. At that stage they had a deficit of one day and two hours, but by devouring the North Atlantic in 6 days 10 h 35′, Groupama 3 quite simply pulverised the reference time over this section of the course.
Setting out on 31st January 2010 whilst the weather `window’ was not particularly favourable, Franck Cammas and his men have alternated between some extremely fast sequences and some very slow ones. Indeed, the conditions were very varied on this round the world, and even the wind rarely exceeded 40 knots. It has to be said that the chosen trajectory sought to avoid the heavy seas and the overly strong breezes, which considerably increased the distance to travel: in fact Groupama 3 sailed 28,523 miles whilst the official optimum course amounts to 21,760 miles. As such, in terms of actual speed across the ground, the giant trimaran maintained an average speed of 24.6 knots! The trickiest zone, both on the outward journey and the return proved to be the South Atlantic. During the descent problems arose due to the calms and on the ascent due to the headwinds.
Tonight Groupama 3 is remaining offshore of Ushant to await daybreak: she will enter the channel into the harbour of Brest at around 0830 UTC under sail, then a parade around the harbour will culminate with her tying up in the Port du Château at around 1000 hours UTC. A number of France’s top sailors, including Bruno Peyron, previous Jules Verne Trophy holder since 2005, have made the trip to Brest to welcome in the victorious crew and the locals are planning to come out in force to welcome home the ten round the world sailors on Sunday morning.
In the disturbed air flow spread all over the Atlantic, Groupama 3 carries on its rapid progress towards the finish line and substantially increases its lead over the reference time. The arrival at the Créac’h’s lighthouse is still scheduled for Saturday, but the time frame remains open all day as the low pressure area could slow down the giant trimaran.
If the departure’s weather window was narrow, the gates of arrival are now wide open! But 1 500 miles away from Ushant, Franck Cammas and his men are not done yet with changing conditions: by having to approach the center of low pressure which is currently pushing the giant trimaran, the wind will become more unstable and should suddenly change from South-West to North-West. The wind will also strengthen to over thirty knots with gusts in the squalls and the crew will therefore have many maneuvers to undertake until the entry of the Gulf of Biscay.
“The sea is short, the wind is not very stable: it does not slide that much. But the sky is very clear unlike yesterday. On Wednesday night, we got it all: the wind went from six to thirty knots! With a flood of rain on top of that. Since we went through the front, everything is going much better, from wind to sea. However it will evolve as we get closer to the center of the low pressure area.” Franck Cammas indicated during the videoconference from 1230 with the Groupama’s Race HQ in Paris in the presence of culinary presenter Jean-Luc Petitrenaud.
After 46 days at sea, the crew is starting to get impatient and although the distance between land and the sailors is reduced by great surfs; we felt during the video conference with Franck Cammas that the crew was eager to return to their family … and to normal food!
“We’re going to have a good steak because dried food looks more like dog food! Eating is not a pleasure every day: luckily we got fish dishes and sauces prepared by Philippe Rochat to get some taste … We are sailing too fast to fish and we have only raised a small flying fish out of this world tour, so small that we returned it to the sea ”
The finish meal will still wait until Saturday as, by then, the crew will have to be fit and ready for the tough, but also irregular finish: the front will force men to reduce the sail and during those nights with almost no moon, navigation is always a bit stressful, especially when they have to maneuver. Without counting the shipping traffic which will intensify towards the approach of Cape Finisterre and a sea state to be degraded on arrival on the Continental Plateau.
And front swells…
“We’ll have a rough night coming as it is always difficult to touch a low pressure center: the wind is very irregular and the sea becomes chaotic as the waves mingle with the West great swell! These phases are unpleasant and risky for the equipment. We still have 24 hours a bit tricky … We’ll have to navigate carefully, but quickly because we must not be overtaken by the low pressure or we may have to negotiate even more difficult conditions! We do not hesitate in giving a hand to the guys on watch for the maneuvers and for sails changes, to avoid fatigue and constantly adapt to this changing wind. ”
Groupama’s Race HQ moves this Thursday evening in Brest to prepare the arrival of the giant trimaran which should see the Brittany coast on Saturday. Once this low pressure area is passed tomorrow night, ETA (estimated time of arrival) can be refined to one or two hours. However, so far, the opening is between 8:00 and 20:00 (French time) depending on sea conditions and the wind regularity, as if the clock of the Jules Verne Trophy shells minutes, the yo-yo effect of the weather can change the “cooee” time !
Day 45 (17th March 1400 UTC): 441 miles (lead = 412 miles)
Day 46 (18th March 1300 UTC): 579 miles (lead = 828 miles)
On the 44th day at sea, Groupama 3 has made up the ground on Orange 2 very quickly and is now ahead of the reference time. However Franck Cammas and his men have yet to traverse a ridge of high pressure. At that point the giant trimaran is bound to slow down in the lighter breeze, where it will be necessary to put in a gybe before hooking onto a low which will propel her as far as Brest.
Twenty-two days behind, twenty-two days in front! This round the world course, now less than 2,500 miles from completion, marks an important phase: the reversal of the trend. Amassing a lead of up to 620 miles (6th day) and a 492 mile deficit (40th day) off Brazil, Groupama 3’s progress has often been thwarted by rather unfavourable weather. This Tuesday comes as a great relief then for all the crew aboard Groupama 3, who can now view the next stage of the programme in a slightly more relaxed manner and with more clarity, as the forecasts are encouraging for this Atlantic sprint.
“We have some good conditions, we’re going fast and there’s a great atmosphere on deck, but we’re going to have a battle on our hands with the ridge of high pressure that’s lying across our path. Nevertheless, we can really smell home now! We’ve been waiting for this moment to get ahead again… At times recently, it’s been possible to read a bit of doubt on our faces. However, our routing was right and we’re beginning to make gains now. We remain humble because we’ve still got a way to go yet and there may be some obstacles across our path, such as containers or the like… Nevertheless, the strategy that’s taking shape is giving the crew something to be enthusiastic about! In principle, we shouldn’t be lacking in wind at the end and we’re still envisaging a finish this weekend” indicated Jacques Caraës during the 1130 UTC radio session with Groupama’s Race HQ in Paris.
In time for spring…
Suspense continues to reign today though as the completion of the course will depend on the time Groupama 3 takes to traverse the ridge of high pressure: if the wind is greater than ten knots, the giant trimaran could hook onto a front the minute she escapes the high pressure. However, if the zone of high pressure shifts across at the same time as the boat, the time frame may be considerably longer and Franck Cammas and his men might have to bide their time until they can hook onto another disturbed system… The least favourable routing gives an arrival on Sunday morning.
“The last few days will be pretty tough and we’re going to have to stay on our guard, because we’ve certainly accumulated some fatigue along the way. Some of us have lost weight and all of us have weaker legs due to not moving round much aboard Groupama 3. We’ve had a balanced diet, even though it’s not excellent everyday! The boat has also lost weight and you can feel that she’s lighter… Five years ago on Orange 2, we weren’t spoilt after the equator with a very W’ly course and two ridges of high pressure to traverse. We didn’t really get going again until we were level with the Azores. We’ve certainly got an advantage today, especially as Groupama 3 has a superior speed capacity when sailing close-hauled. We’re also driving the boat a bit harder because Bruno Peyron had a bit more room for manoeuvre to beat the Jules Verne Trophy in 2005: he always remained below the maxi-catamaran’s potential.”
The final high pressure trap
“A ridge of high pressure is a barrier of light winds. However, that’s not the only difficulty before the finish as there will be some fronts to negotiate. Groupama 3 has been well positioned since exiting the Doldrums, by shifting across to 40°W. Indeed the trajectory will be able to bend northwards and as the wind eases, the giant trimaran will accompany the rotation to the SE, then the S, gybing once the breeze has clocked round to the SW. The axis of the ridge of high pressure, where the winds are lighter, should be reached early this Tuesday evening. The zone which contains wind of less than fifteen knots stretches around 400 miles, with a particularly sensitive phase of around fifty miles with just ten knots or so of breeze…” says Sylvain Mondon from Météo France.
Once through this tricky zone, the wind is set to pick up considerably from Wednesday afternoon: an initial low is passing across the Azores to join up with Europe, whilst a second is due to follow suit. As such the wind will be established over this final section of the course through until the middle of next week, which means we can be fairly optimistic about the finish off Ushant. “The probabilities on a round the world in winter indicate that the strongest winds are in the Bay of Biscay: there will be waves of up to four to five metres and forty knots of breeze or more…”
Offshore of Cape Verde, Groupama 3 is powering back into contention in relation to her virtual rival. Indeed she has made up nearly 200 miles in the past 24 hours and her deficit is set to diminish still further over the coming hours! On her 43rd day at sea, Orange 2 was the slowest she’d been along the entire course of the round the world…
Hope coloured proceedings today and Frédéric Le Peutrec’s voice spoke volumes during the 1130 UTC radio session with Groupama’s Race HQ in Paris. The Doldrums was virtually non-existent last night, though Franck Cammas had been rather wary of approaching the zone at dusk. Ultimately, not only was there little to worry about, but added to that the tradewinds are well established in the NE and the fifteen knots or so of breeze is enabling the giant trimaran to make an average speed close to, and even at times greater than thirty knots! At around this same time five years ago, Bruno Peyron and his crew were so tangled up in a ridge of high pressure that they only covered 180 miles on the 43rd day…
End of the week?
“We’re going to bring rain, with the sky full of contrasts… and we’re envisaging an arrival this coming weekend. We set out from Brest (also during a weekend) with a narrow weather window and it was at the back of our minds that it was possible the attempt would come to nothing at Cape Finisterre. As such we’re very happy to have got this far, still within the timing and still full of hope! We’ve managed to remain concentrated on our pace, on preserving the boat and with a pretty decent course in relation to the weather conditions we’ve experienced. The results are positive, even though it’s not over yet. Groupama 3 is a boat which really goes well in the light airs and into the wind, which is something we’ve really been able to make use of, as much in the descent and the ascent of the South Atlantic… We really believe we can do it! We’re eager to see you again.”
There will nevertheless be a ridge of high pressure to negotiate from Tuesday evening, before joining up with a low which will bring with it SW’ly breezes… It’s also possible that these winds may accompany them all the way to the finish off Ushant! As such the wind will ease temporarily, which is why navigator Stan Honey has opted to let them run on a little, by getting a little bit of West into their N’ly course. This will be the final weather barrier then before the sprint to the finish, on a virtually direct course towards Brittany. They have just 2,000 miles to cover now!
Doldrum free… almost
“Last night went well in the end, with just a short calm spell: as such we’re already in the tradewinds, on smooth seas making fast headway without any violence for the boat and the crew! On Sunday we were still in squalls without a lot of wind and Franck was feeling a little doubtful… It’s the end of the voyage though and the nerves are always a tad more frayed! We’re really keen to get to the finish because our nerves are a little worn and, though all’s well with the boat, she is a little fatigued herself. We’re still relishing the sailing but it’s nice that it will come to an end soon too. 24/ 7 in a confined space with the other guys on a boat which is going fast and is sometimes stressful, means that you can’t always be good humoured. All’s well though and right now we’re sailing on a single hull in perfect conditions…”
The final system of breeze should be a little less steady than the current tradewinds so Groupama 3 is likely to make headway in fits and starts at the end of this week. However, the road home is clear and the lights are on green without any major obstacles between here and Ushant, with the exception of a slight reduction in pace in the ridge of high pressure…
Groupama 3’s log (departure on 31st January at 13h 55′ 53” UTC)
Day 1 (1st February 1400 UTC): 500 miles (deficit = 94 miles)
Day 2 (2nd February 1400 UTC): 560 miles (lead = 3.5 miles)
Day 3 (3rd February 1400 UTC): 535 miles (lead = 170 miles)
Day 4 (4th February 1400 UTC): 565 miles (lead = 245 miles)
Day 5 (5th February 1400 UTC): 656 miles (lead = 562 miles)
Day 6 (6th February 1400 UTC): 456 miles (lead = 620 miles)
Day 7 (7th February 1400 UTC): 430 miles (lead = 539 miles)
Day 8 (8th February 1400 UTC): 305 miles (lead = 456 miles)
Day 9 (9th February 1400 UTC): 436 miles (lead = 393 miles)
Day 10 (10th February 1400 UTC): 355 miles (lead = 272 miles)
Day 11 (11th February 1400 UTC): 267 miles (deficit = 30 miles)
Day 12 (12th February 1400 UTC): 247 miles (deficit = 385 miles)
Day 13 (13th February 1400 UTC): 719 miles (deficit = 347 miles)
Day 14 (14th February 1400 UTC): 680 miles (deficit = 288 miles)
Day 15 (15th February 1400 UTC): 651 miles (deficit = 203 miles)
Day 16 (16th February 1400 UTC): 322 miles (deficit = 376 miles)
Day 17 (17th February 1400 UTC): 425 miles (deficit = 338 miles)
Day 18 (18th February 1400 UTC): 362 miles (deficit = 433 miles)
Day 19 (19th February 1400 UTC): 726 miles (deficit = 234 miles)
Day 20 (20th February 1400 UTC): 672 miles (deficit = 211 miles)
Day 21 (21th February 1400 UTC): 584 miles (deficit = 124 miles)
Day 22 (22nd February 1400 UTC): 607 miles (deficit = 137 miles)
Day 23 (23rd February 1400 UTC): 702 miles (lead = 60 miles)
Day 24 (24th February 1400 UTC): 638 miles (lead = 208 miles)
Day 25 (25th February 1400 UTC): 712 miles (lead = 371 miles)
Day 26 (26th February 1400 UTC): 687 miles (lead = 430 miles)
Day 27 (27th February 1400 UTC): 797 miles (lead = 560 miles)
Day 27 (27th February 1400 UTC): 560 miles (lead = 517 miles)
Day 29 (1st March 1400 UTC): 434 miles (lead = 268 miles)
Day 30 (2nd March 1400 UTC): 575 miles (lead = 184 miles)
Day 31 (3rd March 1400 UTC): 617 miles (lead = 291 miles)
Day 32 (4th March 1400 UTC): 492 miles (lead = 248 miles)
Day 33 (5th March 1400 UTC): 445 miles (lead = 150 miles)
Day 34 (6th March 1400 UTC): 461 miles (lead = 58 miles)
Day 35 (7th March 1400 UTC): 382 miles (deficit = 100 miles)
Day 36 (8th March 1400 UTC): 317 miles (deficit = 326 miles)
Day 37 (9th March 1400 UTC): 506 miles (deficit = 331 miles)
Day 38 (10th March 1400 UTC): 321 miles (deficit = 384 miles)
Day 39 (11th March 1400 UTC): 255 miles (deficit = 309 miles)
Day 40 (12th March 1400 UTC): 288 miles (deficit = 473 miles)
Day 41 (13th March 1400 UTC): 503 miles (deficit = 483 miles)
Day 42 (14th March 1400 UTC): 445 miles (deficit = 403 miles)
Day 43 (15th March 1400 UTC): 482 miles (deficit = 216 miles)
The record to beat
Currently held by Bruno Peyron on Orange 2 since 2005 with a time of 50 days 16 hours 20 minutes at an average of 17.89 knots. Lionel Lemonchois, Ronan Le Goff and Jacques Caraës were aboard at the time.
At the beginning of her forty-first day at sea in her bid to conquer the Jules Verne Trophy, Groupama 3 is finally benefiting from some favourable weather conditions. However, God knows that the crew has had to be patient before they could once again make the kind of speeds worthy of a 32 metre maxi trimaran. Indeed they are now in a position to begin making up the ground on the current Round the World record holder. In its guise as the final geographical reference of this record, the equator is just a little ahead of them now as Cammas and his crew prepare to take on their final week at sea.
Blue seas and heat, a mild E’ly wind and tropical sunshine, such is the weather Groupama 3 has been enjoying offshore of Recife, beam onto the wind: “We’ve been slipping along nicely since late yesterday and we’re back in slightly more favourable conditions to make good speed. We’re in a good phase now with 15 knots of breeze and the boat is making 28 to 30 knots of boat speed. The sailing conditions are very mild. When we’re all on deck at the same time, we have some very enjoyable moments together” admitted Thomas Coville, during the daily radio link-up with the Paris HQ for the Jules Verne Trophy.
Positioned 430 miles from the line separating the South Atlantic and the North early this afternoon, the maxi trimaran is now performing as she should now that she’s done with the rather unfavourable tack changes, which she’d been linking together since rounding Cape Horn on 4th March. Benefiting from her power (22.5 metre beam) and her large sail area (550 m2) in relation to a weight of just 18 tonnes, Groupama 3 is sailing twice as fast as the wind strength. At this pace, she has made up 54 miles on Orange 2 in the space of 13 hours, that is over 4 miles gained every hour.
Not surprisingly such a performance is giving this very top level crew a good boost: “We’re in great spirits and we’re going to give it our all until we cross the finish line. From a physical point of view, we’re feeling fairly rested and Groupama 3 is in tip-top condition, sailing at 100% of her potential. For the time being we’re still taking things step by step, as you would a hurdle race where you have to get over various obstacles. Today is coloured by the tradewinds. The next stage will be the equator then the Doldrums… We’re not thinking too far ahead as that just puts unnecessary pressure on us.”
As such we can’t count on Thomas Coville to give us his prognosis of Groupama 3’s chances of crossing the finish line off the island of Ushant before Tuesday 23rd March at 0714 hours. Hardened long-distance racers, the ten crew are respecting the plan of action set by Franck Cammas to the letter: “Since setting out on this Jules Verne Trophy, we have always been sparing of our steed, even if it means not choosing the fastest course. At times that was frustrating but the upshot of that is that the boat is in perfect condition.”
Still highly attentive to developments in the weather, the group coming on watch always start out by visiting navigator Stan Honey to get instructions for the next two or three hours they’ll spend on deck: “This exchange is essential to performance because, in contrast to what you may think, there is a great deal to be won or lost according to the way in which you helm and trim the sails. We’re highly concentrated” concluded Thomas Coville.