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Spindrift 2 begins a Jules Verne attempt as the GGR 2018 nears its end

by David Schmidt 22 Jan 12:00 PST January 22, 2019
Spindrift 2 training ahead of their 2019 Jules Verne record attempt © Chris Schmid / Spindrift racing

While the sport of sailing is incredibly diverse, with great competition unfurling in boats as modest as Optimists and as mighty as the elegant J Class yachts, there's something particularly magical about contests that involve circumnavigation sailing. Here, not only are sailors racing against other boats or against a reference time, but they are also dealing with the forces of nature to a far greater extent than regatta sailors. After all, while a dearth of wind can wreck an afternoon of windward-leeward racing, typically speaking, race committees act mercifully after a few hours of postponement, giving everyone (themselves included) a night's sleep in a dry, comfortable bed; around-the-world racing, not so much.

Interestingly, there are currently two circumnavigation races unfurling, using radically different levels of technology and realizing radically different levels of VMG performance. However, sailors competing in both races must confront and work with nature's same elements.

Just ask Jean-Luc Van Den Heede (FRA; 73) or Mark Slats (NED; 41), who are the two frontrunners in the Golden Globe Race 2018 (GGR 2018). This race, which began in Les Sables-d'Olonne, France on July 1, uses period-specific vessels (read: full keels), navigation and communications technology (read: sextants and single sideband radios and no race-legal weather-routing options), and sailcloth (read: Dacron) to emulate the trials and tribulations experienced by Sir Robin Knox-Johnston and the other competing skippers in the original Sunday Times Golden Globe Race of 1968-1969.

For anyone just tuning in, Van Den Heede once enjoyed a lead of 2,000 nautical miles before a vicious knockdown in the Southern Ocean on November 1, 2018, damaged his rig, forcing the Frenchman to play a far more conservative game than he would otherwise like. Slats, sitting in second place, of course capitalized on this mechanical weakness and whittled Van Den Heede's lead down to just 28 nautical miles last week.

Still, fate and fortune have ways of ensuring that misery is equally shared, and last week word broke that Slats freshwater supply is exhausted, forcing the Dutchman to spend significant amounts of time each day hand-pumping his daily rations of potable water.

Moreover, a windless high-pressure system off of the Azores was a key factor in Slats' impressive juggernaut, however Van Den Heede has now re-stretched his lead to a more comfortable 233 nautical miles, with just 862 nautical miles separating Matmut's bow from the Les Sables-d'Olonne finishing line. Slats, sailing aboard his Rustler 36 The Ohpen Maverick, is directly south of Van Den Heede's Matmut, which is another Rustler 36, making this a One Design race-within-a-race.

Still, 862 miles is still 862 miles, and a lot can unfurl over this distance, especially when the steeds are only capable of delivering speeds of 4.9 knots in current conditions. But, given that the yachts are now both in the same weather system, and given that both skippers have had their knuckles rapped for not having valid HAM radio licenses, much could come down to the strength of Van Den Heede's rigging-repair efforts, Slats' ability to desalinize water, and both skippers' abilities to accurately read the clouds.

Meanwhile, skipper Yann Guichard (FRA) and his team aboard the 131-foot, state-of-the-art maxi trimaran Spindrift 2 crossed the imaginary starting line separating the Créac'h lighthouse on Ushant Island, France, and the Lizard Lighthouse, in Cornwall, England, to begin their attempt on the Jules Verne Trophy for the fastest all-out and fully crewed circumnavigation record last week.

Unlike Slats, Van Den Heede, and the other GGR 2018 skippers, Guichard and his crew are using cutting-edge communications, satellite-based weather routing, and onboard instrumentation, and have been regularly reporting speeds in the high 20s as they attempt to best the standing record of 40 days, 23 hours, 30 minutes and 30 seconds, which was set by skipper Francis Joyon aboard the 105-foot trimaran IDEC Sport in 2017.

For reference, Joyon and crew sailed 26,412 miles at an average pace of 26.9 knots, meaning that Guichard and company have a very fast bar to exceed in their hunt for a new record.

At the time oft his writing, Spindrift 2 was some 515.3 miles ahead of IDEC Sport's reference time, but with 18,825.2 nautical miles of sailing left to go before Spindrift 2 re-crosses the line between the Créac'h and Lizard lighthouses, a lot of question marks remain intact. But, given that the Spindrift 2 team reached the equator in just 4 days, 19 hours and 57 minutes (a yet-to-be-ratified new record), it's fair to say that Guichard and crew are off to a smokin'-fast start.

May the four winds blow you safely home.

David Schmidt
Sail-World.com North American Editor

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