tick tock

More than 23 days into their attempt to break Giovanni Soldini and Maserati’s less than two year old record along the China Tea Trade route, Francis Joyon and his crew onboard IDEC Sport find themselves behind the eight ball for the first time since departing Hong Kong in late January. Having just crept across the equator and still enduring a prolonged battle with an expansive light air patch in the doldrums, the Trophy Jules Verne and Route du Rhum champion IDEC Sport is making just 13-14 knots as of this writing, with only about half of that pace being in the right direction.

In just two days’ time, their 800-mile lead on Maserati’s reference time has disappeared and instead become a 27 mile deficit as of this writing. Things will surely improve, and should soon, but for a record that many thought to be a sure thing, mother nature is keeping Francis and his men honest and making them work for every mile. And they’re not out of the woods yet.

“We did look seriously at the route taken by the record holder Maserati back in 2018, which was a shorter route cutting across the Gulf of Guinea along the coast of West Africa. But it would have given rise to a number of drawbacks with a lot of areas with thunderstorms and then long periods without any wind”, explains Francis Joyon. “Initially, our route took us close to the coast of Brazil to get around the Doldrums via the west where they were narrowest. But last Friday, a small tropical low quickly developed ahead of us and we had to round it via the east, which explains our route this weekend heading due north in a shallow low giving us a foretaste of the Doldrums.”

Once reaching the new breeze, Joyon and his men will be very headed as the new breeze will have a lot of north in it. It’s hard to say from our vantage point whether they will opt to go hard on the breeze or if they will ease sheets and put in more westing. At any rate, when Francis and his men finally make it north they are unlikely to encounter a traditional Azores High.

Instead, they will face a ridge of high pressure that could slow them once agin and, once crossed, will continue to test the team and make them fully earn this latest feather in Joyon and IDEC Sport’s proverbial cap. As the North Atlantic ocean continues to remain extremely active during the late stages of this winter season, IDEC Sport are likely to face some incredibly rough and extreme conditions on their approach back to Europe. 

Just as the UK and much of western Europe are recovering from being hammered by hurricane-force winds, the first ever tow-in team surfing event at Portugal’s infamous big-wave spot Nazaré has been green lighted for tomorrow, further underscoring how active and intense the weather has been in the North Atlantic. With these conditions presenting themselves along Joyon and crew’s route back to London, anything is still possible, and this record attempt is anything but certain. Soldini and crew on Maserati had a slow run up the North Atlantic which culminated in stiff headwinds to reach the finish line.

The Italian skipper reckons that they could have easily dropped 3-4 days off the reference time in the North Atlantic alone, and we’ll be watching the tracker very closely to see if Joyon and his men can regain, and hold their record pace to London in an attempt that grows increasingly more difficult by the day.  – Ronnie Simpson.