Francis Joyon is ready for the off. In a few days from now, he will be tackling the prestigious North Atlantic record. If he pulls it off, he will become the only sailor in the world to achieve the records Grand Slam. The stand-by begins in New York on 15th May. Yesterday evening, the skipper from Locmariaquer in Brittany was in Paris for a special event at Pershing Hall to present the challenge. He was accompanied by three of the four skippers, who have held the solo Atlantic record: Florence Arthaud, Bruno Peyron and Thomas Coville, the current holder of the record that the skipper of IDEC will shortly be tackling.
Florence Arthaud, Francis Joyon, Patrice Lafargue (President oh the IDEC Goup), Thomas Coville and Bruno Peyron - rancis Joyon set to tackle the North Atlantic
Keeping up an average speed of 21 knots and completing the voyage in less than 5 days, 19 hours and 29 minutes. Sailing solo. Crossing the very demanding North Atlantic. That is what is involved in this challenge today after Thomas Coville raised the bar back in July 2008. That is the mathematical data that this complicated problem will entail for Francis Joyon, as he makes his way between the Statue of Liberty and Cornwall (G.B.). To be more precise between Ambrose Light in New York and the Lizard Lighthouse at the southernmost tip of mainland Britain.
You can count the number of sailors who have this ambition on one hand. Francis Joyon is among them. The pilot of IDEC previously set this record back in July 2005 (6 days and 4 hours), when he shattered the record set eleven years earlier by Laurent Bourgnon by a complete day.
Just five sailors
In this short list of those, who have attempted this solo challenge aboard giant multihulls with all the dangers of the North Atlantic, there are only star names from the world of sailing. You can count them on one hand. More men have indeed walked on the moon. The names of this one woman and these four men are those of five exceptional sailors, who have enthralled us with their exploits: Bruno Peyron, Florence Arthaud, Laurent Bourgnon, Thomas Coville, Francis Joyon.
In 26 years, from 1987 to the present, only six attempts have been successful. Bruno Peyron achieved it twice, in 1987 and 1992. If Francis Joyon succeeds, he will become only the second person to smash the North Atlantic record twice. Above all, he will be the only sailor able to claim the Grand Slam of major records, as the skipper of the maxi-trimaran IDEC is already the fastest solo sailor around the world (57 days and 13h), the fastest over 24 h (sailing 668 miles at an average speed of 27.83 knots) and the fastest over the Atlantic from East to West on the Columbus Route between Cadiz and San Salvador, a record he shattered last winter with a time of 8 days and 16 h.
108 years after Charlie Barr
The North Atlantic… with its mysterious mists, whales and the famous low-pressure area which will allow him to speed across the Atlantic between the New World and the Old World… This is the ultimate challenge he is taking up to achieve this unique feat.
Francis Joyon, who previously set the record on his first IDEC trimaran is well aware he is tackling a legendary crossing. He told us: 'If we had to attribute points according to the importance of the vent, I’d say the most important was the Round the World record. The North Atlantic is number two because of it was a long-standing record for Charlie Barr’s schooner, Atlantic with her crew of fifty, which set the record back in 1905. Eric Tabarly was the first person to smash the record, once again with a crew, 75 years later. I grabbed the solo record a few years ago, but it was then smashed by Thomas (Coville)… so now it’s up to me to win it back again.'
Joyon makes it sound so simple, but he knows that it is not going to be that easy. 'I will have to keep up an average speed close to 21 knots. So it’s vital that we find the right weather, and there can be no easing off along the way. We have to give it our all throughout these five and a half days…' Aboard a 30-metre multihull sailing at full pelt, this is not something anyone can just do. It’s certainly not down to chance that the rare sailors, who have held this record were all present in Paris on Thursday 25th April alongside Francis Joyon for the presentation of the event. They know what it takes…
Patrice Lafargue (President of the IDEC Group) and Francis Joyon - rancis Joyon set to tackle the North Atlantic
Patrice Lafargue, President of the IDEC Group
'IDEC has been alongside Francis Joyon for more than a decade now. We are proud to be accompanying one of the world’s top sailors in his quest for records. Francis has given us so many emotions, sailing around the world and across the oceans... For this North Atlantic record attempt, he has come up with another big challenge. We are of course right behind him and keeping our fingers crossed that he will succeed in achieving the Grand Slam that so far no has yet managed. Looking beyond the mere sporting challenge and all the excitement, he is someone that the IDEC group shares the same values with. The quest for innovation, competition, environmental respect... Good luck, Francis!'
Bruno Peyron, inventor of the solo record back in 1987 (11 days and 11h)
Winner again in 1992 (in 9 days and 21h)
'This record is an amazing story: it brings together a legendary route, reminding us of some famous names like Charlie Barr… and it takes total commitment. Initially, in 1987 I wanted to start the record based on a simple concept: sailing solo and smashing Charlie Barr’s record set with a crew of fifty. Since then, the bar has been raised and the North Atlantic Record has become the second most important one after the Round the World record. For the first in 1987, all of the ingredients came together for a great story, as it was simple and efficiently done. We set off from New York for a battle between two brothers: Loïck with Lada Poch against me on Explorer. I remember it with a mixture of pleasure, hard effort and then unusually running out of breeze off the coast of England and having to go right around Land’s End again to cross the finish. For the second solo attempt, I remember it being less fun, as due to a lack of means, the boat had been more or less abandoned in an old yard in Newport. I bought an old mainsail from Florence (Arthaud), which was too small. At the start, I suffered one of those historical thunderstorms off New York that I could see with each flash. After that, the weather was decent enough and I did the crossing while remaining fairly conservative… But the story had begun and I knew that others would come along better equipped and showing flawless determination. The main problem is finding the right weather opportunity, in other words one that will allow you to make the crossing on just one low-pressure system, thanks to the potential of today’s machines. To be honest… I’d like to give it another go myself. I love this route and you have to give it your all. It’s probably the only one where with suitable sails, you can sail my 120-foot catamaran solo at 90% of her full potential.'
Winner of the record in 1990 (9 days, 21h 42m)
Trimaran Pierre 1er
'I have some extraordinary memories of this record, particularly the finish in Brest, when I was welcomed by thousands of flowers being tossed on my boat, which ended up covered in roses… It was magnificent. Particularly as the final stretch was tricky, as I had a few problems with my headsail and the wind dropped right off. Sailing just under mainsail without any wind is not ideal, when you want to go as fast as possible. The start from New York was fantastic. I achieved this record on my return voyage from the Two Star in order to train for the Route du Rhum and it proved to be very useful. What was difficult was I didn’t really have the time to find the best moment to get underway, and waiting for the ideal weather opportunity is one of the keys to succeeding, as is having a boat that can go quick enough to remain ahead of the low-pressure areas. I can remember that right up until Newfoundland, I kept telling myself I wasn’t going to managed it… but somehow I did. I can remember too that it is one of the rare routes where I didn’t have any problems with my autopilot. Records are there to be beaten.... and Francis clearly deserves to smash this one too...'
Record-holder with a time of five days 19 h 29 minutes and 20 seconds on the Trimaran Sodebo
'On my first attempt I didn’t manage it. Setting off from New York is something you don’t forget: it’s a very special feeling being in the heart of this metropolis with Manhattan towering over you … and then a few minutes later, you find yourself alone on your big boat with the ocean stretching out ahead of you. It’s a very sudden change. I can remember piling the pressure on myself: there is all the shipping, mists, whales, and sometimes even ice. The start is tricky, and can be complicated or even dangerous, when you can’t even see the bows of your boat but you know that there are fishermen all around you. After that, it’s a real struggle to remain ahead of the low… and the battle goes on for four days. The boat flies along with the wind on the beam and is not held up by the sea. That’s something unique too… Finally at the end, you really have to throw yourself at the finishing line with your head down after one or two gybes in light conditions, as you often end up with light winds or with the wind from astern. You have to make sure you have saved up enough energy for that, which is not the easiest thing to do. I went right up to the north of Ireland before being able to gybe.'
The solo North Atlantic records
1987 : Bruno Peyron, catamaran, Explorer, in 11 days, 11 hours 46 minutes and 36 seconds
1990 : Florence Arthaud, trimaran, Pierre 1er, in 9 days, 21 hours and 42 minutes
1992 : Bruno Peyron, catamaran, Explorer, in 9 days, 19 hours and 22 minutes
1994 : Laurent Bourgnon, trimaran, Primagaz, in 7 days, 2 hours, 34 minutes and 42 seconds
2005 : Francis Joyon, trimaran, IDEC 1, in 6 days, 4 hours, 01 minute and 37 seconds
2008 : Thomas Coville, trimaran, Sodebo, in 5 days, 19 hours, 29 minutes and 20 seconds