Around-the-world record smashed

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Francis Joyon shaves 14 days off the mark on his “green” sprint, using sun and wind to generate electricity

Francis Joyon shaves 14 days off the mark on his “green” sprint, using sun and wind to generate electricity

Frenchman Francis Joyon has broken Dame Ellen MacArthur’s solo around-the-the-world sailing record by a convincing 14 days, one-upping the British single-hander who unseated him as the world’s fastest solo circumnavigator three years ago.

Joyon, 51, clinched the record off Brest, France, Jan. 20, 57 days, 13 hours and 34 minutes after his start there on the 98-foot trimaran IDEC, a bright red speedster 22 feet longer than MacArthur’s B&Q, which had held the record since 2005. “It feels a bit like arriving on the Moon,” he exulted at a press conference in Brest. “I thought the probability of smashing the record was one in three or four. The simple fact that we sailed around the world in a multihull with no damage and without stopping is something you cannot count on.”

Setting a blistering pace, Joyon raced from Brest down the Atlantic; around the Cape of GoodHope, Australia’s CapeLeeuwin and Cape Horn; and back up the Atlantic — a total 26,400 nautical miles. His average speed was an astonishing 19.09 knots. Besides the around-the-world mark, he broke six other single-handed records, including the 24-hour distance record Dec. 11. That record stood for just 26 days. Thomas Coville broke it Jan. 6, covering 619.3 nautical miles at an average 25.8 knots.

Joyon reached the equator in 6 days, 16 hours, 58 minutes, two days faster than MacArthur and almost a day faster than Bruno Peyron’s Orange II, which crossed the equator in 7 days, 3 hours with 12 crewmembers. He kept up the pace through the Indian and Southern oceans, rounding the Horn just three days off Orange II’s time of 32 days, 13 hours, 29 minutes.

Joyon took a “green,” simple-is-better approach to IDEC’s design. Instead of an engine or generator to produce electricity, he opted for a wind generator, solar panels and batteries to power the boat’s electrical system. “It all worked very well, with the batteries always fully charged,” he says. “The results are extremely positive: 20 kilograms for the wind turbine, 20 kilograms of solar panels and 15 liters of methanol for the fuel cell makes it much lighter than an engine and all the liters of fuel you require. It’s also highly satisfying to do that in a good way, by attempting to reduce the footprint on the planet.”

The French single-hander described the day after Christmas as his “worst day” to that point. Approaching Cape Horn from the west after 34 days at sea, he told of 40-foot seas, 50-knot winds and a “minefield” of icebergs — five in one day — as he negotiated a vast low-pressure system in the Southern Ocean. On Day 49, a mainsail halyard broke. Climbing the 105-foot mast to repair it, he discovered that the anchor fitting for the starboard shroud had come unscrewed, so he had to jury-rig a repair for that and nurse IDEC up the Atlantic to Brest so he wouldn’t pull the shroud fitting loose again.

Among the single-handed records he set on the circumnavigation, all from the start off Brest and still to be confirmed, are time to the equator, 6 days, 16 hours, 58 minutes; to Cape of Good Hope, 15 days, 7 hours, 16 minutes; to Cape Leeuwin, 22 days, 15 hours, 28 minutes; to Cape Horn, 35 days, 12 hours, 36 minutes; and back across the equator, 48 days, 2 hours, 18 minutes.