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just chillin'

While many of us relaxed this past weekend there was an astounding accomplishment taking place out on the open ocean. And I mean astounding. The French sailor François Gabart rounded Cape Horn in record time and is now out of the Southern Ocean and now, just four days later, he is already well into the tropics sailing off the coast of Brazil.
Gabart started from France 33 days ago. He is sailing his massive trimaran Macif. The boat is 30 meters in length, just a shade under 100 feet. It has a beam of close to 70 feet and an upwind sail area the size of two tennis courts. This is a huge boat by any measure and Gabart is alone on board attempting to break the solo, non-stop circumnavigation record set last year by fellow Frenchman Thomas Coville. When he rounded Cape Horn François was 1,198 miles ahead of the reference point and he has since extended that lead to 1,762 miles.
Gabart set a new single-handed record time from France to Cape Horn of 29 days, 3 hours and 15 minutes. This was a full 2 days 8 hours and 15 minutes faster than Coville who previously held the record, but get this: only one other boat and team in history have completed that voyage faster and that was Francis Joyon racing his boat fully crewed around the world. Did I mention that Gabart is alone?
Let me try and put out some reference points so that you can get an idea of how extreme and difficult this has been for the French sailor. For a start he is trying to beat a record set by one of the worlds best, if not the best solo, offshore sailor. Coville has (I think) eight circumnavigations under his belt. He sailed a flawless circumnavigation to gain the record and was dealt some pretty decent cards by the wind gods. When he finished I was as certain as anyone that his record would stand for a long, long time. It was a superhuman effort. In order for Gabart to break the record he needs to average over 20 knots.
How many of us have even sailed at 20 knots? To average 20 knots you need to be sailing over 30 knots for a lot of the time because there are days when there is no wind and they do damage the average. Along the way Gabart needs to keep himself and his boat together. We all know how things chafe, how things go bump in the night, and how the constant pounding grinds at both man and boat.
At the last check Macif had just reeled off another 700 mile day and was cruising along at a stately 34.5 knots with just over 4,500 miles to go to the finish off Ouessant on the northwest corner of France. In a message to his shore team François admitted to being a little fatigued. “The fatigue is there,” he wrote. “Accompanied by its faithful friend, the pain, which pulls on the muscles, paralyzes the sore hands … You have pain. All the time.” I will let that be the last word. This is one amazing sailor who is surpassing just about everyone’s expectations, except  his own I guess.
– Brian Hancock