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Joyon breaks record, then his boat

Less than 24 hours after setting the solo trans-Atlantic mark, the Frenchman runs aground off France

Less than 24 hours after setting the solo trans-Atlantic mark, the Frenchman runs aground off France

French super sailor Francis Joyon in July found reason to be both happy and sad. Less than 24 hours after setting two new world records for a single-handed passage across the Atlantic, Joyon’s 90-foot trimaran, IDEC, was destroyed when he ran aground on rocks off Penmarch Point, France.

The 48-year-old sailor began his voyage at Ambrose Light off New York around 4:42 a.m. June 30. Joyon was attempting to break fellow Frenchman Laurent Bourgnon’s record for crossing the Atlantic alone in 7 days, 2 hours, 34 minutes, 42 seconds. Bourgnon set the time in 1994 aboard the 60-foot trimaran Primagaz.

At the start of his fourth day at sea, Joyon discovered that he’d broken the first record, for distance covered in a 24-hour period. Averaging 22.62 knots, Joyon was able to travel 543 miles in that time, narrowly beating Bourgnon’s record of 540 miles.

At sea for 6 days, 4 hours, 1 minute, 37 seconds, Joyon crossed the finish line at the Lizard, southwest of Cornwall, England, July 6, shaving more than 22 hours off the Bourgnon crossing. Shortly after Joyon’s triumphant run, however, disaster struck. An exhausted Joyon set sail for La Trinité-sur-Mer — IDEC’s home port just south of Brittany, France — activated his autopilot, and fell asleep. Around 1 a.m. July 7, the red trimaran veered off course and ran aground at Penmarch Point.

“I suddenly woke up when I heard a huge crash, when the boat came down in the breakers between a 6-meter-high rock to my left — and another one to my right,” Joyon recalls on his Web site, “I was stuck there in the middle. I had managed to go aground on the most vicious rocks you can find off Penmarch Point.”

Groggy and in shock, Joyon immediately placed a mayday call. “In the pitch-black conditions, I gave my position, and the coast guards’ service … told me the rescue service was on their way and that the boat could be reached on foot,” Joyon says. “They helped me ashore in amongst the rocks. I didn’t know what was going on for an hour or so, and I let them take care of me, which isn’t at all like me.”

The rescue team took Joyon to a hospital in Pont L’Abbé. A few hours later, Joyon, his brother and a boat-rescue service returned to IDEC to attempt to get her off the rocks.

“A diver from the rescue team went into the water,” Joyon says. “I got on the deck to help him moor up the trimaran, but just at that moment, she swung around and in just a few moments, the breakers smashed her up and her mast came down. … All that remains of her is a few tiny pieces.”

Despite the loss of his beloved trimaran, Joyon still has a lot to be proud of, says British sailing sensation Ellen MacArthur. “To break the record by this much is an amazing achievement. I am in awe of what he has done,” MacArthur says in a statement on her Web site,

“For Francis to have lost IDEC in this way is tragic, and my heart goes out to him and his team,” MacArthur says in another statement. “They have done so much together.”

In 2004 Joyon and IDEC obliterated the world record for a single-handed circumnavigation, finishing in 72 days, 22 hours — an astonishing 20 days faster than Frenchman Michel Desjoyeaux’s record, set in 2001 with the Open 60 PRB in the Vendee Globe. Joyon’s time was beaten a year later when MacArthur, aboard her 75-foot trimaran B&Q, completed the voyage in 71 days, 14 hours, 18 minutes, 33 seconds.

On her Web site, MacArthur says she plans to make her own record attempt across the Atlantic. She will be on standby for up to two months starting Sept. 1. MacArthur attempted the passage last June but came up 75 minutes short of the record.