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Francois Gabart’s proud record-breaking attempt and a newfound desire to speak French

by David Schmidt 11 Dec 2017 07:45 PST 11 December 2017

I’ll admit that there have only been a handful of times that I have wished that I had a fluent command over the French language since I washed-out of French 1 in middle school for the seemingly easier (and more widely spoken) Spanish classes that some of my other linguistically challenged friends were taking, but the past month and a half has been one of those times as Francois Gabart (FRA; 34), sailing alone aboard his 30-meter trimaran Macif, has been making proud work of the standing record for the fastest solo circumnavigation time. This record of 49 days, 3 hours, 7 minutes and 38 seconds was set by Thomas Coville (FRA; 49), sailing aboard his 110-foot Sodebo Ultim trimaran, on December 25, 2016, and while many pundits believed that this impressive metric would stand for years, it appears as if Coville’s proudly held record is on the verge of tumbling at its one-year anniversary.

Some backstory. Francois Gabart convincingly won the 2012-2013 Vendee Globe as a rookie entrant, sailing aboard an IMOCA 60 with Macif’s livery, beating many of the world’s best offshore sailors. While Gabart was young at the time (just 29 years old), he had been mentored by some of France’s best offshore sailors, including Michel “le Professor” Desjoyaux.

After recovering from this herculean effort, the young skipper and his sponsor began work on a new, three-hulled project that would become the Macif that Gabart is currently sailing just north of the equator on his quest to break the world’s fastest time for a solo circumnavigation.

Gabart set sail from the official starting line that stretches between the Créac’h lighthouse in Ushant, France, and the Lizard Point lighthouse in Cornwall, UK, on November 4, and he has been wasting precious little time on anytime but burning off miles since he slipped his docking lines, including establishing a yet-to-be-ratified new record for the farthest distance sailed in 24 hours by a singlehander (a mind-bending 851 miles).

Now, at the time of this writing, Gabart has rounded Cape Horn, crossed back over the equator, and is back in North Atlantic waters, making 19.4 knots of VMG towards the finishing line (which is the same as the starting point). Impressively, he is also some 2,318 nautical miles in front of Coville’s reference time, making it increasingly likely that the high-performance offshore sailing world will get an early Christmas present this year.

Also as of this writing, a mere 2,696 miles separates Macif’s bows from the finishing line. While this is enough un-plyed brine to still host hidden problems for the 34-year-old skipper, it’s also a tiny fraction of the miles that he has already sent on this “lap”, so it will be interesting to see if the fast Frenchman continues to lean heavily on his accelerator or if he will start to instead focus on banking his already-impressive advantage over Coville’s time.

Based on the speeds and distances that Gabart has covered since his November 4, 2017 departure, he is now well over five days of sailing time ahead of where Coville was during his 2016 record-setting round-the-world run.

While Macif has built a great website ( that documents Gabart’s efforts and includes a user-friendly tracker, the site is (of course) written in French. Also, Macif’s social media team has done a great job of adding video clips to the tracker, allowing site visitors to check in with Gabart at different points along the track, but this is also in French.

Here, of course, is where my utter lack of linguistic skills are a serious handicap, as Gabart undoubtedly has some great stories, quips and bits of wisdom to share with his fans as he rips around the planet at an average pace of more than 27 knots for some 24,000 miles, while also establishing several new (still un-ratified) reference times en route, including the fastest run ever recorded from Cape Horn to the Equator (6 days, 22 hours and 15 minutes) for any sailboat, crewed or otherwise.

So, for anyone who can speak French and loves fast sailboats, these are halcyon days to be savored and remembered. For the rest of us, this same payoff awaits, but first it might need to spend a bit of time with a sailing-savvy translator.

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