The great Francis Joyon and his crew set yet another world sailing record yesterday morning after arriving in London around breakfast time. The record? The Tea Route record. Yea I had never heard of it either and that’s because it’s a new record that was set in 2018 when Italian skipper Giovanni Soldini set a reference time of 36 days and 2 hours sailing from Hong Kong to London. Of course Joyon and his team on their massive 104-foot trimaran IDEC Sport were going to beat the record. It was set by a boat over 30 feet shorter so it’s no wonder they knocked over four days off Soldini’s time.
I don’t mean to sound grumpy here but I think this is much ado about nothing. Joyon is a super hero in sailing circles and it’s well deserved. He has broken some of the toughest sailing records out there including the solo, non-stop around the world record as well as numerous others, so making a big deal out of what was essentially a delivery back to Europe is stretching it for me.
One the other hand. Joyon needs to keep his name and his sponsors name out there and if this is what it takes then it’s all good.
The 16,000 mile route from Asia to the UK was not without a few bumps along the way. Navigating through the South China Sea was relatively easy although the shipping and fishing vessels, as always, presented many obstacles. A brisk northwesterly breeze propelled them through the Sunda Strait between the Indonesian islands of Java and Sumatra and out into the Indian Ocean where things began to get tricky.
There was a lot of tropical activity off the coast of Madagascar so Joyon and his team opted to head directly south to the northern edge of the Southern Ocean. That left them with the difficult situation of having to deal with strong westerly winds although the occasional pocket of high pressure allowed them to hook onto the north side and ride a tail wind for a short while. It was a bumpy eight days to the Cape of Good Hope which they rounded over a day ahead of the reference time set by Soldini two years earlier.
The trip up the Atlantic was much kinder. The St Helena High dominates the south Atlantic and the crew were able to enjoy a favorable trade wind ride up the eastern side of the High. Once across the equator they were able to hook onto the western side of the Azores High and slingshot up the North Atlantic but as they got closer to the European mainland things again started to get tricky. It’s still the dead of winter in the Northern Hemisphere and small volatile low pressure systems seem to pop up out of nowhere.
Despite the vagaries of winter weather they were able to enter the mouth of the Thames estuary and sail up the river to cross the finish line under QE II bridge in a new record time of 31 days, 23 hours, 36 minutes and 46 seconds. For the record (pun intended) this was three times faster than the old clipper ships that plied the same route a century earlier bringing the all important tea that powered the British Empire to world domination. – Brian Hancock.