Forty-years after he first took part in the Route du Rhum solo transatlantic race at the age of 18, iconic French ocean racing skipper Loïck Peyron is preparing to take on what he says will be his final outing in the classic singlehanded race.
In contrast to Peyron’s normal cutting edge entries to the Route du Rhum, his weapon of choice for the 2018 edition which starts from St. Malo in northern France on November 4 is a 36-foot wooden vintage trimaran called Happy that he lovingly restored after finding it almost derelict four years ago.
Designed by Dick Newick and built by Walter Greene Peyron’s bright yellow multihull is a close sister ship to the legendary Olympus Photo which – skippered by Canadian Mike Birch – pulled off an unexpected line-honours victory in the inaugural Route du Rhum in 1978.
Around half the size of the hotly tipped line honours favourite Michel Malinovsky’s 76-foot monohull Kritter, Birch’s Olympus Photo stunned the sailing world by snatching the lead in the final mile to the finish in Guadeloupe to edge out Kritter by a little over a minute and a half after 23 days of open-ocean racing.
Birch’s win is credited with sparking the ongoing French fascination with multihull offshore racing which still endures today in the form of the gigantic Ultim trimarans, five of which will be racing for line honours the 2018 Route du Rhum.
When Peyron discovered his boat through an internet search it was languishing in a sorry state in Plymouth, England. Peyron immediately hopped on a ferry from France and bought the trimaran on the spot.
“I came face-to-face with a boat that looks absolutely nothing like she does today,” Peyron said. “There were hatches and portholes everywhere. Tracks, furlers, an outboard off the back, and a cut-away bow. I looked at the hull number and it was hull No.2. No.1 was Mike Birch’s boat – winner of the first Route du Rhum”
After moving the boat to the Multplast yard in France Peyron carried out the painstaking renovation largely by himself.
Four years ago Peyron was all set to take part in the last edition of the Route du Rhum aboard the newly restored Happy but switched boats shortly before the race when he was asked to stand in as replacement skipper aboard the maxi-trimaran Banque Populaire V after Armel Le Cléac’h sustained a hand injury.
He went on to record his first ever victory in the race after xx attempts when he completed the 3,542-mile course in seven days, 15 hours and eight and a half minutes.
Now though he is aiming to round out his five-edition Route du Rhum legacy in much slower fashion aboard his 40-year-old trimaran.
“At some point you need to call it quits with the silliness, don’t you?” he said. “I believe it’s my last sip. Finishing off the Rhum like this isn’t a bad idea. Finishing in the slowest way possible and racing a symbolic boat, that rounds off 40 years of offshore racing.
“I was at the start of the first one at 18 years of age but I didn’t do it and now I’m on the start line 40 years later, so it’s all good,” Peyron added.
“Though this Rhum will be no picnic,” he said. “It will obviously be a homage to all the pioneers and those naval architects, thanks to whom we are here now.”