The solo Vendee Globe skippers may be grabbing all the headlines out on the Atlantic right now, but back in France two other major sailing teams are readying themselves and their 100-foot Ultim trimarans for separate attempts at setting a new fully crewed around-the-world record.
The two syndicates, Sodebo and Gitana, are close neighbours on the waterfront in Lorient in Brittany – a city universally accepted as the spiritual home of professional ocean racing. Each are have developed gigantic state-of-the-art ocean-going foiling trimarans for their around-the-world record attempts and are led by giants of the French offshore racing scene.
At stake now is the Jules Verne Trophy for the fastest circumnavigation of the world aboard a sailboat of any size and with no restriction on the number of crew.
Sodebo skipper Thomas Coville has raced around the world seven times already, including a then record-setting solo circumnavigation of just over 49 days in 2016.
Meanwhile, the Gitana Sailing Team is jointly led by serial ocean racing record setter Franck Cammas and co-skipper Charles Caudrelier. In 2012 pair won the Volvo Ocean Race together at their first attempt aboard Groupama 4, with Caudrelier claiming victory again in 2017-18 as skipper of Dongfeng Race Team.
While Cammas and Caudrelier have assembled a crew of just three more (French) sailors – Morgan Lagravière, Erwan Israël and David Boileau – plus Yann Riou (FRA) as their media man, Coville is taking six other sailors with him (five French and one British): Francois Duguet, Sam Goodchild (GBR), Corentin Horeau, Francois Morvan, Thomas Rouxel and Matthieu Vandame – with Martin Keruzore (FRA) in the media man role.
The Jules Verne Trophy course begins and ends at the western end of the English Channel between the Créac’h lighthouse on the French island of Ushant and the Lizard Light at the south west tip of England. The route takes the competitors through the infamous Southern Ocean down below all the world’s three great capes – Good Hope (South Africa), Leeuwin (Australia), and Horn (South America), with no ice gate restrictions imposed on the challengers.
Named in reference to the author of the novel Around the World in Eighty Days the trophy was first awarded in 1993 to Bruno Peyron and his crew aboard the 86-foot catamaran Explorer who went around in 79 days 6 hours 15 minutes 56 seconds.
The current holder is French skipper Francis Joyon and the crew of IDEC who in 2017 tore around the world in just 40 days, 23 hours, 30 minutes, 30 seconds.
Now the Gitana and Sodebo squads are targeting a sub-forty-day lap of the globe aboard their flying multihulls that are capable of cruising at speeds in region of 35 to 40 knots.
They each can leave whenever they choose, however, before they can entertain any thoughts of record setting runs, both teams know they need a close to perfect weather window during which to mount their challenges.
The Gitana crew have been on standby since November 1 and even moved last weekend to Code Orange signifying a possible departure within 72 hours. However the once favourable weather scenario which could have seen them depart on Wednesday November 18 soon deteriorated, pushing the team back to Code Black – meaning no option to depart within 96 hours (four days).
Meanwhile, following the completion of repairs to one of their foils after a collision with an unidentified floating object during on a training run in October, Coville’s Sodebo team plan to go into standby mode before the end of November.
Both teams know all too well how well they will have to sail and how accommodating the weather gods will have to be to beat Joyon’s current record time.
The remarkable target times being discussed by Cammas and Caudrelier for the opening north and south Atlantic sections of the course give a clear indication of how little margin for error there is, with just five days being targeted for the run to the equator, and a further six days to pass by the Cape of Good Hope.
Main images © Martin Keruzore/Sodebo and Yann Riou/Gitana