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Joyon sets course record in the Route du Rhum–Destination Guadeloupe

by David Schmidt 12 Nov 2018 09:00 PST November 12, 2018
Francis Joyon took line honours and set a new record time for the 3,542-nautical mile Route du Rhum-Destination Guadeloupe solo transatlantic race from Saint Malo in Brittany to Pointe-à-Pitre in Guadeloupe © Yvan Zedda

It's been a wild eight-plus days of sailing in the 3,542 nautical mile Route du Rhum–Destination Guadeloupe, a once-per-quadrennial transatlantic race that brings wildly powerful monohulls and multihulls from the race's starting line, off of St. Malo, France, to its finishing line off of Pointe-à-Pitre. This edition of this iconic race has seen a new course record established, as well as plenty of storm-battered carnage and DNFs on the results page. After seven days, 14 hours and 21 minutes, France's Francis Joyon (62), sailing aboard his Utlime trimaran IDEC Sport, crossed the finishing line to lop almost an hour off of the previous course record (which, incidentally, was set by Loick Peyron in 2014, sailing aboard the same boat but under different livery).

More importantly, Joyon also crossed the finishing line seven minutes and eight seconds ahead of France's latest offshore superstar, Francois Gabart (35), who was sailing aboard a battle-damaged MACIF.

Joyon's triumphant 2018 Route du Rhum – Destination Guadeloupe marks a proud win for the French skipper who has been a bridesmaid before in this classic transatlantic race but has never before had the honor of tossing out the bouquet.

And while there's no question that Gabart, who is literally the world's fastest sailor following his record-setting circumnavigation (42 days 16 hours 40 minutes and 35 seconds) in December of 2017, wanted to own that bouquet himself, he unfortunately suffered problems with the hydraulics system for his J3 headsail early on in the race, followed by a broken starboard foil and-later still-a broken port rudder.

While this was clearly bad news for Gabart, it made for a heck of an entertaining race for landslubbers with internet connections, as MACIF and IDEC Sport were locked in a serious battle for the last 24 nautical miles that, says Joyon, were a light-air affair that only ended one and a half minutes before the finishing line.

"It was only one-and-a-half minutes before the finish that I realized I could win," said Joyon in an official press release. "Before the last gybe François was faster than me with his Code Zero (sail) and practically all the way to the finish line I had a vision of him steaming in and passing me again because he was going two or three knots quicker."

Also of note are the two skippers' support teams. For his part, Joyon, who was sailing aboard a 12 year-old trimaran that has sailed under many names (including Lending Club II, aboard which your humble editor got to experience 39.51 glorious knots of boatspeed on San Francisco Bay in 2015), was supported by his son, daughter and a handful of friends, while Gabart, sailing aboard the world's most sophisticated trimaran, enjoyed the help and support of a fully professional team.

Still, it's interesting to note that Gabart suffered more damage during the 3,542 nautical mile Route du Rhum – Destination Guadeloupe than he did during his record-setting circumnavigation last year.

Speaking of damage, this race has also seen some of the sport's biggest names either turn back to shore or-in the case of Armel Le Cléac'h (FRA), sailing aboard the huge trimaran Maxi Solo Banque Populaire IX-call for rescue following a capsize.

As of this writing, only four of the six starting Ultime trimarans have either finished racing or are still pursuing the hunt, while all six of the Multi50 skippers are still gunning for the finishing line and top honors in their class; in the IMOCA 60 class, four out of the original 20 starting skippers abandoned racing, while seven of the starting 53 Class 40 skippers have retired. Also, two skippers in the RhumMulti class were forced out, while four out of the original 17 starters turned back because of damage.

That said, there are still great contests to watch in the Route du Rhum – Destination Guadeloupe in the coming days, as all other classes outside of the Ultimes still have well north of 1,000 nautical miles of sailing in front of their bows (for some of the smaller boats, this metric is over 2,000 nautical miles), leaving the North Atlantic plenty of time to administer more beatings before the skippers get their first taste of fresh food and Caribbean rum. wishes fast and safe passage to all competing skippers. Also, I was remiss last week when I reported that there is a sole American in the race (Michael Hennessy, who is currently sitting in 11th place aboard his Class 40 Dragon)...I certainly meant no disrespect to John Niewenhous (USA), sailing aboard his Class 40 Loose Fish. As of this writing, Niewenhous is sitting in 16th place out of a 46-boat class, some 217 miles astern of Dragon, with 2,584.8 nautical miles to go before enjoying a level horizon.

May the four winds blow you safely home.

David Schmidt North American Editor

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