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.
(Friday, July 10, 2015) – Late afternoon, British time, Bryon Ehrhart’s Lucky was the first boat in the Transatlantic Race 2015 to cross the finish line at The Lizard, ending a brutal 8 days 22 hours 5 minutes and 3 seconds at sea on a 2,800-mile eastbound crossing of the North Atlantic, sailed mostly in strong winds.
At present Lucky holds the lead in the Transatlantic Race 2015 under IRC handicap, but the title remains under threat from boats yet to finish. Similarly, her impressive course time is likely to be bettered by the maxis which started four days after her.
“We are excited to have finished; it was an interesting test,” said Ehrhart, who earlier this year acquired his Reichel/Pugh 63 (formerly the 2011 Rolex Sydney Hobart winner, Loki) with the principle aim of competing in this race. Erhart, a Chicagoan, is a member of the New York Yacht Club and the Royal Ocean Racing Club – two of the four clubs, with the addition of Storm Trysail Club and the Royal Yacht Squadron – that comprised the organizing authority for the race.
Navigator Ian Moore added: “Obviously the whole crew are really excited to have made it to the finish and to be the first boat home. It has been a very long night and a very long day. The beat to the finish felt like it would never end and the wind started to run out. It is a fantastic feeling to finally finish the race.”
Competing in IRC 2, Lucky set off from Newport, R.I., on July 1 with the second group of starters, including Clarke Murphy’s longer and much-higher-rated 100’ Nomad IV. Nomad and Lucky sailed neck and neck for the first few days, but Lucky took a more direct easterly route towards Point Alpha, the ice exclusion, which allowed her to reach its south-western tip 13 miles ahead.
The two boats continued due east after passing the south-eastern corner of the exclusion zone, staying in the best breeze as they determined how cross to a patch of light winds on Sunday, July 5. Ultimately Luckymade the best of it, adding six miles to her lead over Nomad IV. By this stage both boats had passed all of the first starters, which had departed three days before them, with the exception of the biggest boat in the fleet, the 138’ Mariette of 1915. Lucky finally passed the 100-year-old schooner two days from the finish, at the same time as she was splitting from Nomad IV to head north.
With the Azores High forecast to extend over the western tip of the U.K. as Lucky made her final approach to the finish, she headed north where the breeze would remain strongest for longest. Thanks to this she managed to extend her lead to more than 60 miles, but with the risk that Nomad IV, approaching from the west-southwest would come in with pressure and overtake her.
Lucky lost ground as she headed north of the Scilly Isles early this morning and was forced to beat up the narrow passage between Land’s End and its off-lying Traffic Separation Scheme allowing Nomad IV to close. But it was too little too late.
Lucky crossed the line while Nomad still had 37 miles to sail in a dying breeze. Nonetheless it was close after more than 3,000 miles of racing—in distance sailed—considering the two boats are so different:Lucky, a 63’ long stripped out racer; Nomad IV, at 100’, a much bigger boat but fitted out with a luxury interior, and also having suffered a catalogue of problems on this race.
“It was always in the back of our minds that they were out there charging along,” admitted Moore. “But it would have been a big job for them to catch up 50 miles in 12 hours.”
As to what contributed to Lucky’s success, Ehrhart commented: “It was everything. The crew is certainly the leading star in this and the boat was well prepared as was the crew. It was a good navigational plan by Soapy [Ian Moore]. We think we sailed as well as we could. They didn’t leave anything out and there was nothing I wish we could have changed. I just hope that the result stands.”
Elsewhere in the fleet, last Sunday’s starters now have the bit between their teeth and are making fast progress. All four boats—the two maxis, Comanche and Rambler 88, and the two trimarans, Phaedo³ andParadox—have been eating up the miles, none more so than Lloyd Thornburg’s MOD70 Phaedo³. In the 24 hours until 1030 ETD (1430 UTC) she had sailed a massive 626 miles at an average speed of 26.5 knots. In the inter-maxi monohull dust-up, Rambler 88 was doing a good of job of staying in touch with the 100’Comanche, having lost only 30 miles to her in the last 24 hours.
These boats are now picking off the rest of the fleet. Some 275 miles north of Phaedo³ is the current Cruiser class leader, Jack Madden’s Swan 60, Lady B.
“We have been doing well,” reported Lady B’s navigator J.J. Schock. “We are averaging about high nines speed over ground and everyone is in good health and spirits.” This morning Lady B was seeing 25 knots from the southwest and two-meter seas, which Schock described as having a long period, so “quite comfortable. We are sailing along on starboard tack under main and No. 3. Everything is calm on board and we’re just trying to make good speed.”
Schock acknowledges that this crossing has been particularly breezy, with wind speed having remained in the high 30s for days, occasionally accompanied by squalls into the 40s and one gust reaching 50 knots.
Being in the Cruiser class means they have the luxury of not having to eat reconstituted freeze dried food. “We have a wonderful cook on board and she is taking very good care of us. When it has been rougher, we have been having some peanut butter and jelly and crackers. When it has been nice we have had some nice meals,” said Schock.
Further up the fleet Earl St. Aldwyn’s Shipman 50 Zephyr experienced some drama last night when the shackle on the spinnaker halyard exploded, causing the kite to tumble into the water and for the boat to run over it. “We managed to recover it remarkably with no damage,” reported skipper David Sharples. “We sent George Bullard up the mast to recover the halyard at first light.”
Now up to sixth on the water, Ross Applebey’s Oyster Lightwave 48 Scarlet Oyster was this morning running downwind, but had prudently dropped the spinnaker in the early hours after the breeze had built to 30 knots. “We are pointing at the mark, but it is pretty rolly. I think we have managed to find ourselves a bit of current again, so it is heating up again. We are in pretty good shape,” commented Applebey.
The battle remains relentless against the ocean racing classics Carina and Dorade, but Scarlet Oyster is now ahead of the former on handicap, but still lying third to the immaculate S&S classic in IRC Class 4.