At the end of the last millennium, the ORMA class of multihulls were on the rise. Laurent Bourgnon’s second triumph in a row in the Route du Rhum would generate a huge amount of enthusiasm for the 18.28 m trimarans, although it would not last long. Eight strong performers set sail from Saint-Malo in the autumn of 1998, and there would be eighteen four years later, after the spotlight fell on Primagaz. As for Francis Joyon, he could see things were changing. His Irens design launched in 1994 was fully optimised and Francis could see his rivals were entering a new technological era where there were no limits, which did not really correspond to his way of doing things. But Francis loved this race to the Caribbean and he was going to give it his all including sailing a bold choice of route, as he did two years earlier between Plymouth and Newport, in order to take up the challenge and face the weather obstacles.

Foils and canting mast
Built in 1994 with limited financial means, but with the limitless passion we expect from Francis and Gil Carmagnani, the first of a long saga of trimarans, advanced steadily over the years. With foils added in 1997, Francis added a canting mast in early 1998, which was then the must in the class. Everyone was taking up the quest for power and the new boats, La Trinitaine (Marc Guillemot), Groupama (Franck Cammas), Brocéliande (Alain Gautier), were now almost as wide as long. But Francis knew every inch of his boat and he knew how to set her up to be able to be a serious contender.

A good trip out of the Channel
From the start on 8th November 1998, Francis was up with the frontrunners, second off Cape Fréhel then in the lead off île Vierge. Hurricane Mitch passing over in late October 1998 somewhat upset the usual pattern of the Azores High. The solo sailors looked like they would struggle to find a tiny route through to the north of the Azores. To everyone’s surprise, Francis Joyon and Loïck Peyron decided to dive south closer to the Canaries. Peyron and his Fujicolor II, the sister-ship to Francis’s trimaran, soon changed their minds behind the leader, Bourgnon, who appeared to have it all sewn up. Francis took a gamble on some steady trade winds developing, but the Azores High started to expand forcing him to sail close to the coast of Africa to get around the south.

Francis visits Mauritania
Far from the direct route and his rivals, Joyon kept going and stuck with his option along the edge of the Sahara. It was only when off the coast of Mauritania that he was finally able to gybe and start to head westwards. Francis was out of the running for victory, and would suffer even more. Making do without an autopilot, he had to stay at the helm to deal with the strong trade winds and heavy seas, which tossed his boat around. As for naps, they were reduced to a minimum and he struggled to keep awake to remain vigilant at the helm and keep his boat upright. “I went to to the edge in terms of my physical and mental ability and suffered hallucinations,” he later admitted in Pointe à Pitre after 13 days, 13 hours and 41 minutes of suffering. “I could hear voices telling me where to go… It was very scary!”

30% further sailed
Francis Joyon finished sixth, 29 hours after Laurent Bourgnon.  But those following the race would express their amazement at this superhuman performance, when they saw that instead of sailing 3538 miles (theoretical route), Francis actually covered 4988 miles, or more than 2600 km more than his rivals, averaging 15.33 knots.

The Route du Rhum once again refused to play the game and punished the transatlantic solo sailor. Francis did however shine in terms of showing his resilience, giving us a hint of the man, who a few years later would employ the same methods and show the same determination to grab the solo round the world record twice.

See you next Wednesday when we look at Francis Joyon’s fourth attempt at the Route du Rhum in 2002.

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