This past weekend, French solo sailor Francis Joyon obliterated one of the most important offshore sailing records, namely the west to east transatlantic run from Ambrose Light to Lizard Point aboard his 98-foot trimaran, 'IDEC'. Joyon managed to shave down the previous record, set by French skipper Thomas Colville in 2008, by 16 hours, 34 minutes and 30 seconds, setting the new (still to be ratified by the World Sailing Speed Record Council) record at a mind-numbing 5 days, 2 hours, 56 minutes and 10 seconds.
According to reports, Joyon also nearly broke the outright speed record for the maximum number of solo miles sailed in a 24-hour period aboard a big multihull-set and held by none other than himself-of 666.2 miles. This last minute speed burst allowed the French superstar to break Colville's record, despite having to sail outside of the Great Circle route due to weather conditions.
This passionate drive to sail faster, to publically prove one's ability to match technology and technique in all weather and conditions is much the same, I imagine, as the calling heard by elite high-altitude mountaineers such as the legendary Reinhold Messner, who became the first person to climb all fourteen of the fabled 8,000-meter peaks, alone and without oxygen. Messner's 'club' has proven itself to be one of the world's most exclusive fraternities, but it's fair to say that Joyon (and other elite offshore sailors) would certainly be granted reciprocal rights, as theirs is also no trivial accomplishment.
The interesting question, of course, is the 'why' behind each adventurer's motivation for pressing well beyond the normal bounds of human reality to achieve greatness. Certainly the human ego plays a leading role here, but so too does something deeper, and far more soulful. Much like Bernard Moitessier discovered during the first non-stop, solo-around-the-world sailboat race, there's a purity to oceans and extreme environments, a beauty with each crashing wave or with each cascading avalanche that simply can't be replicated in society. For Moitessier, salvation lay with forfeiting nearly certain victory for the solitary reward of additional days at sea, but for others, the reason behind the why is far more straightforward.
Here, the last word belongs to George Mallory, an English-born mountaineer who succumbed to the ravages of altitude and weather on Mount Everest (29,035 feet) on June 24, 1924. When queried as to why he chose to tackle something as massively daunting as scaling the world's highest peak, the Brit simply quipped, 'because it's there'.
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