Francis Joyon prepares for solo transat record attempt
The event was atended by three of the four holders of this exclusive record, including Florence Arthaud, Bruno Peyron and Thomas Coville, the present record holders who in 2008 set a time of 5 days 19 hours 30 minutes and 40 seconds at an average speed of 21 knots, aboard IDEC's slightly longer sistership, Sodebo. Joyon himself has already held this record previously when he broke the extraordinary record held for 11 years by Laurent Bourgnon and the ORMA 60 Primagaz with a time of six days and four hours.
Since the singlehanded record from Ambrose Light off New York Harbour to the Lizard was first established 26 years ago, only six attempts have been successful. Bruno Peyron has claimed the rrecord twice, in 1987 and 1992 so Joyon is successful this time, he would become the second two-time winner of this record, but he will be the only sailor to claim the full 'Grand Slam' of absolute solo offshore record including around the world, 24 hours and the fastest across the Atlantic from east to west on the Route of Discovery route between Cadiz and San Salvador, which Joyon claimed this winter in a time of eight days 16 hours.
Joyon is due to go on stand-by in New York on 15 May. Of the course, Joyon said: “If we had to look at the importance of each course, I’d the most important was the Round the World record, then the North Atlantic is number two because of it is a long-standing record following Charlie Barr’s schooner, Atlantic with her crew of 50, which set the record back in 1905. Eric Tabarly was the first person to break that record, once again with a crew, 75 years later. I broke the solo record a few years ago, but it was then smashed by Thomas (Coville)… so now it’s up to me to win it back again."
Joyon makes it sound so simple, but he knows that it is not going to be that easy. "I will have to keep up an average speed close to 21 knots. So it’s vital that we find the right weather, and there can be no easing off along the way. We have to give it our all throughout these five and a half days…" Aboard a 30m trimaran sailing at full pelt, this is not something anyone can just do.
Bruno Peyron, creator of the solo record in 1987 who set the first time of 11 days 11 hours, bettering this in 1992 with a time of 9 days 2hours aboard the catamaran Explorer said: "This record is an amazing story: it brings together a legendary route, reminding us of some famous names like Charlie Barr… and it takes total commitment.
"Initially, in 1987 I wanted to start the record based on a simple concept: sailing solo and smashing Charlie Barr’s record set with a crew of 50. Since then, the bar has been raised and the North Atlantic Record has become the second most important one after the Round the World record.
"For the first in 1987, all of the ingredients came together for a great story, as it was simple and efficiently done. We set off from New York for a battle between two brothers: Loïck with Lada Poch against me on Explorer. I remember it with a mixture of pleasure, hard effort and then unusually running out of breeze off the coast of England and having to go right around Land’s End again to cross the finish.
For the second solo attempt, I remember it being less fun, as due to a lack of means, the boat had been more or less abandoned in an old yard in Newport. I bought an old mainsail from Florence (Arthaud), which was too small. At the start, I suffered one of those historical thunderstorms off New York that I could see with each flash. After that, the weather was decent enough and I did the crossing while remaining fairly conservative… But the story had begun and I knew that others would come along better equipped and showing flawless determination.
"The main problem is finding the right weather opportunity, in other words one that will allow you to make the crossing on just one low-pressure system, thanks to the potential of today’s machines. To be honest… I’d like to give it another go myself. I love this route and you have to give it your all. It’s probably the only one where with suitable sails, you can sail my 120-foot catamaran solo at 90% of her full potential."
Florence Arthaud broke the record in 1990 setting a new time of 9 days, 21 hours and 42 minutes aboard her Route du Rhum winning ORMA 60 trimaran Pierre 1er added: "I have some extraordinary memories of this record, particularly the finish in Brest, when I was welcomed by thousands of flowers being tossed on my boat, which ended up covered in roses… It was magnificent. Particularly as the final stretch was tricky, as I had a few problems with my headsail and the wind dropped right off. Sailing just under mainsail without any wind is not ideal, when you want to go as fast as possible. The start from New York was fantastic. I achieved this record on my return voyage from the Two Star in order to train for the Route du Rhum and it proved to be very useful. What was difficult was I didn’t really have the time to find the best moment to get underway, and waiting for the ideal weather opportunity is one of the keys to succeeding, as is having a boat that can go quick enough to remain ahead of the low-pressure areas. I can remember that right up until Newfoundland, I kept telling myself I wasn’t going to managed it… but somehow I did. I can remember too that it is one of the rare routes where I didn’t have any problems with my autopilot. Records are there to be beaten.... and Francis clearly deserves to smash this one too..."
Present record holder Thomas Coville shared his recollections: "On my first attempt I didn’t manage it. Setting off from New York is something you don’t forget: it’s a very special feeling being in the heart of this metropolis with Manhattan towering over you … and then a few minutes later, you find yourself alone on your big boat with the ocean stretching out ahead of you. It’s a very sudden change. I can remember piling the pressure on myself: there is all the shipping, mists, whales, and sometimes even ice. The start is tricky, and can be complicated or even dangerous, when you can’t even see the bows of your boat but you know that there are fishermen all around you. After that, it’s a real struggle to remain ahead of the low… and the battle goes on for four days. The boat flies along with the wind on the beam and is not held up by the sea. That’s something unique too… Finally at the end, you really have to throw yourself at the finishing line with your head down after one or two gybes in light conditions, as you often end up with light winds or with the wind from astern. You have to make sure you have saved up enough energy for that, which is not the easiest thing to do. I went right up to the north of Ireland before being able to gybe."
Finally Patrice Lafargue, President of the IDEC Group commented: "IDEC has been alongside Francis Joyon for more than a decade now. We are proud to be accompanying one of the world’s top sailors in his quest for records. Francis has given us so many emotions, sailing around the world and across the oceans... For this North Atlantic record attempt, he has come up with another big challenge. We are of course right behind him and keeping our fingers crossed that he will succeed in achieving the Grand Slam that so far no has yet managed. Looking beyond the mere sporting challenge and all the excitement, he is someone that the IDEC group shares the same values with. The quest for innovation, competition, environmental respect... Good luck, Francis!"
The solo North Atlantic records
1987 : Bruno Peyron, catamaran, Explorer, in 11 days, 11 hours 46 minutes and 36 seconds
1990 : Florence Arthaud, trimaran, Pierre 1er, in 9 days, 21 hours and 42 minutes
1992 : Bruno Peyron, catamaran, Explorer, in 9 days, 19 hours and 22 minutes
1994 : Laurent Bourgnon, trimaran, Primagaz, in 7 days, 2 hours, 34 minutes and 42 seconds
2005 : Francis Joyon, trimaran, IDEC 1, in 6 days, 4 hours, 01 minute and 37 seconds
2008 : Thomas Coville, trimaran, Sodebo, in 5 days, 19 hours, 29 minutes and 20 seconds