1994 Route du Rhum: A bitter tasting ‘Rum’

On 4th November, Francis Joyon will be lining up for the start of the Route du Rhum, destination Guadeloupe. He knows all about this transatlantic race having taken part six times. Six “Rums” with different flavours that we look back on each week. This week, it’s episode 2 concerning the 1990 race.

For his second attempt at the Route du Rhum back in 1994, Francis Joyon had a brand new boat, a 60-foot ORMA trimaran displaying the colours of the BPO. After launching his boat in August of that year, Francis did not have much time to work on his fibre-glass machine. But from his first Multihull Grand Prix in Brest in the following month, his Irens designed boat shone winning two races and only just missing out on victory to Laurent Bourgnon (Primagaz). Francis set off from St. Malo feeling confident. Unfortunately, he would hit a UFO shortly after the start, which damaged a rudder forcing him to return to port. So it was from a distance that he saw Laurent Borgnon get his first win the legendary transatlantic race a fortnight later.

Francis’s first brand new boat.
In late 1993, Francis ended his adventure with Paragon, a Robert Humphrey and Thompson design from 1985, getting third place sailing solo in Cartagena in Colombia in the Coffee Race (which two years later became the Transat Jacques Vabre) from Le Havre. His partner Banque Populaire offered him the opportunity to get his hands on a boat matching his ability. Francis, helped by his long time friend, Gil Carmagnani, started to build a 60-foot trimaran designed by Nigel Irens. He got a helping hand from Loïck Peyron and his Fujicolor, as he was able to use the old moulds for Fujicolor II, the newest trimaran which won the 1992 transatlantic race from Plymouth. With limited means, the boat was not made of carbon like most of them from that era but of fibre-glass, which was stiff but heavier. She nevertheless performed well and did well in her first contest against the leading ORMA boats at the Grand Prix in Brest in September 1994. Francis, who was less well known for short round the bay races with a crew, won two races and ended up in a very encouraging second place overall.

The 1994 Route du Rhum was a certain low in ocean racing with an economic downturn and only 24 solo sailors competing divided up equally between multihulls and monohulls. The quality was however there in the up and coming 60-foot trimarans and catamarans with Bourgnon, Peyron, Vatine and Maurel all competing. Francis was unlucky from the start. Shortly after the start he hit an object, which damaged not just his rudder, but also led to an ingress of water. He had to turn back to Saint-Malo to change his appendage. He set off again a long way back from the leaders, Laurent Bourgnon and Paul Vatine, who fought an epic duel, while Loïck Peyron was victim of a dismasting. But for Francis, it was one stroke of bad luck after another. “The foot of the mast exploded and I had to stop in the Azores to carry out repairs before heading back to France. It was a huge disappointment of course, but I count myself lucky that I didn’t lose the mast.”

Francis was forced to retire from that Route du Rhum, but looked after his boat, whose rustic appearance matched his own. In the following year they got second place in the Transat Jacques Vabre before winning the 2000 transatlantic race from England.

See you next Wednesday for the story of Francis Joyon’s third Route du Rhum in 1998.

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