Au revoir Olivier

de Kersauson's maxi tri Geronimo sets off this afternoon on her Jules Verne attempt

Sunday February 17th 2002, Author: James Boyd, Location: Transoceanic

Geronimo 's new mast is stepped last week

After some five years in the sponsor-hunting and planning stage, 18 months in the build, finally Olivier de Kersauson's dream will begin later today when he embarks on the first of a four year programme of breaking the world's greatest sailing records.

Geronimo, the Frenchman's 110ft long by 69ft wide trimaran sponsored by Cap Gemini Ernst & Young and Schneider Electric, is due to slip her moorings in Brest this afternoon and will then head up to the start line between Ushant and the Lizard before setting off on her attempt to break the record for sailing non-stop round the world. Ironically de Kersauson will be setting out to break his own record for the Jules Verne Trophy. This currently stands 71 days 14 hours 22 minutes and 8 seconds for the 26,500 mile sprint round the planet.

If all goes well then the big tri should romp it. She is 20ft longer than de Kersauson's previous tri Sport Elec, the current holder and a much more modern design. This should make her substantially faster. But there are so many ifs and buts about this voyage.

Firstly this passage is very long and this substantially increases the opportunity for things to go wrong.

There is the risk of collision, which could damage the hull or the appendages. Most recently Cam Lewis' Team Adventure broke her port bow following a collision with a submerged object while attempting the transatlantic record. In 1993 on the first occasion the Jules Verne was attempted three boats set out and only one, Bruno Peyron's Commodore Explorer made it all the way round. Peter Blake and Robin Knox-Johnston's ENZA New Zealand retired after damaging her starboard hull in a collision while one of the bows snapped off de Kersauson's tri.

The prospect of gear failure in the extreme conditions of the Southern Ocean are high and it should be remembered that although de Kersauson has been trialling his new work horse since her launch in late July, this is her first real outing in competition mode. The reliability of the boat has already been questioned when last autumn her mast broke above the hounds. The new mast was only delivered and fitted last week.

Then there is the weather. De Kersauson himself has set out on this record more times than anyone. After his aborted attempt in 1993, he set off a year later hot on the heels of ENZA New Zealand, who succeeded in lowering the record to 74 days 22 hours 17 minutes and 22 seconds. On this occasion de Kersauson made it round, but failed to better Blake and Knox-Johnston's time. Doggedly determined to better their record, he set off on several occasions in subsequent years, only to return when the weather proved not to work in his favour. Finally in May 1997 de Kersauson finally achieved success knocking another three days off ENZA's record.

Five years on and de Kersauson now has some new technology at his disposal and today is the big day. "Having looked at the meteorology - which is looking pretty good despite a small rather tricky patch where we might have to cope with strong northerly winds before reaching the start line - I have decided in agreement with my two second-in-commands on Geronimo, Didier Ragot and Yves Pouillaude, my route planner Pierre Lasner and my troops, to set sail from from the Brest Arsenal early on Sunday afternoon for Ushant, where we will cross the line that evening, during the night or maybe even on Monday morning." De Kersauson is ever one to keep his options open...

Watch this space for any developments...

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