Over the past few days there has been an absolutely amazing show of seamanship and blinding boat speed as Francis Joyon and his crew on IDEC have shredded the Southern Ocean setting a new record from Ushant (the start line for the Jules Verne Trophy) to Cape Leeuwin on Australia’s southwest coast. Their time of 17 days and a shade under 7 hours knocks almost 17 hours off the previous record held by fellow Frenchman Loïck Peyron and his team on Banque Populaire V. It’s almost as if Joyon is retaliating for having his record of the fastest solo lap of the planet smashed last week by Thomas Coville on Sodebo.
But those who know Joyon know very well that retaliation is not the way he sails. Retaliation leads to stupidity; instead he and his crew have found a favorable wind lane and have been riding it like men hell bent on smashing the Jules Verne record to smithereens. Let me put this into perspective. For seven days they covered more than 800 miles a day with peaks from 28th to 31st December of 876, 871 and 869 miles respectively. That’s an average speed of more than 36 knots. Average. You have to know that there must have been times when the boats speed dropped into the 20s. I guess to compensate for the slower speed they would have to push up into the low to mid 40-knot range. Incroyable. Unbelievable.
What’s more unbelievable is this: They also set a new record for the fastest time from the Cape of Good Hope (Cape Town) to Cape Leeuwin. They covered this gap between these two major capes in just 4 days, 9 hours and 37 minutes, a full 1 hour and 46 minutes ahead of the reference time which was coincidentally held by Joyon on a previous record attempt.
I usually have a point of reference that allows me to articulate the enormity of what they just accomplished but this time I don’t. This kind of sailing is in new territory. Let me just say this. I have sailed at speeds in the mid 30s, but only for short bursts, and I can tell you it’s terrifying. The noise, both above and below decks, is like something out of a third rate horror movie. It’s like the boat is being wrenched apart while the wind whistling in the rigging reaches a high pitched tone that is so unnerving it’s hard to understand how anyone can get used to it. Imagine this going on for seven straight days and nights without letup. Imagine trying to sleep, eat, take a pee or even stand on deck taking washing machine sized waves straight in the face. If Joyon and IDEC do indeed set a new Jules Verne record no one will be able to say that they didn’t earn it.
With this latest push IDEC now leads the reference time set by Loïck Peyron on Banque Populaire V by 855 nautical miles. Let’s call it a day at those speeds and while there is still a long way to go, 12,000 odd miles to be exact, they are looking good for now. The weather for the next few days looks reasonable. The wind is going to ease up a little but that just means that they can pile on canvas to keep the averages up. They still need to sail under Australia, across the South Pacific to Cape Horn and then dodge a myriad minefields of weather obstacles as they sail up the Atlantic, but one thing is clear. Joyon and his crew have their sights set on breaking this almost unbreakable record. It’s going to be fun watching how they make out. – Brian Hancock.