It’s quite amazing how far things have come in sailing. Two short decades ago it was thought impossible that one could circumnavigate the world in less than 80 days, in fact the Trophée Jules Verne was put up for the first boat to circumnavigate in the time it took Jules Verne’s Phileas Fogg and Jean Passepartout to lap the planet. Some of the very best sailors in the world were skeptical it could be done yet prepared to give it a go, among them SpeedDream’s skipper Cam Lewis. Cam was crew aboard the 86-foot catamaran Commodore Explorer, the boat skippered by legendary French sailor Bruno Peyron.
When Cam and his crew finished their circumnavigation in 79 days and 6 hours they had wrung all the speed they could from their massive multihull and finished just under the 80-day barrier. They were a talented team who has sailed brilliantly to win the Trophée Jules Verne and stamp their name on history. Yet now we see a solo sailor in a much smaller boat looking likely to best the time of Commodore Explorer. That’s how far things have come.
While I don’t want to jinx anything by prematurely claiming that French sailor François Gabert will circumnavigate the planet in less than 80 days in the Vendee Globe, he certainly looks on track to do so. The pace he is keeping in the Vendée Globe is simply amazing. Gabert sailed from Les Sable d Olonne, France in an astounding 52 days, 6 hours and 18 minutes. His time was a full 4 days and almost 9 hours faster than the record set four years earlier by his mentor Michel Desjoyeaux in the last Vendée.
So could Gabert get around in less than 80 days? The short answer is that his fate, as always, lies in the hands of the weather gods. Four years ago Desjoyeaux had a relatively fast passage from Cape Horn to the finish. He barely slowed for the notorious doldrums and seemed to keep in a favorable breeze when his closest competitors were struggling to find wind. When he finished in Les Sable d Olonne Desjoyeaux predicted that the 80-day barrier would likely fall, but wouldn’t say when.
The truth is that Gabert’s time to the Horn was quite a bit faster than the numbers reveal. This time around there are more ice gates in the Southern Ocean forcing Gabert to sail a longer distance. In my opinion he was more likely around 5 and a half days faster than Desjoyeaux who won the race and went on to set a new course record of 84 days and 3+ hours. With all this in mind, plus the fact that he is being pushed every inch of the way by second place Armel le Cleac’h, I believe that he certainly has a chance at a sub-80 day circumnavigation. Time will tell, as it always does. – Brian Hancock, SpeedDream