Francis Joyon did not take part in the 2006 edition of the Route du Rhum, which for the final time saw victory go to a 60-foot trimaran, Gitana 11 which Lionel Lemonchois sailed at an incredible pace to a triumph in Pointe-à-Pitre. Francis, recent record holder of the transatlantic crossing, said farewell in the most dramatic way possible to his venerable IDEC, the first to bear the name. She would be smashed to pieces on the rocks at Penmarc’h at the tip of Brittany. In 2006, he had a new boat built, an Irens design measuring 29 metres in length, a precursor of the move to the giant boats we see today, the Ultime multihulls. These would be accepted in the 2010 edition that Francis and IDEC SPORT tackled as one of the favourites in the shadow of a giant that everyone wondered whether it was reasonable to be used for solo sailing, the maxi-trimaran Groupama 3 skippered by Franck Cammas, designed and built for a crew and which had just won the Jules Verne Trophy with ten men on board.
“As soon as we got out of the Bay of Biscay, she had a 100 mile lead,” explained a smiling Francis Joyon. Groupama 3, which has since 2015 become IDEC SPORT, was in 2010 the world’s largest racing multihull. With her 31m length at the waterline, even with a mast shortened to 33.50 metres, she was a remarkable boat when sailed by a crew winning the Jules Verne Trophy, but it was hard to imagine then how she could be sailed by a solo sailor. Fitted with her famous bicycle powered winch, she had nevertheless been well adapted to solo sailing and Franck Cammas would from the very first few hours of racing obliterate the competition and gallop away alone towards Pointe-à-Pitre which he would reach in nine days, 3 hours, 14 minutes and 47 seconds. The width, weight and inertia of the boat would work wonders in the breeze, but it was above all the boat’s ability to sail downwind which would make all the difference from the start. “With equivalent wind, Franck could adopt a better angle to the wind and a more efficient trajectory than our narrower trimarans, designed more at that time for solo sailing,” explained Francis.
Holder of the solo round the world record since 2008, Francis moved back to fleet racing with this ninth edition of the Route du Rhum. His Irens designed boat underwent many changes in 2010, benefiting from foils placed under the sides of the hulls of the maxi-trimaran, and a mainsail with a surface area 30 m² bigger than the previous one, with a 5m square top. “The rhythm of the race came as something of a surprise,” he admitted at the finish. “From the start, we needed to be constantly alert, not just for other boats and shipping, but to keep an eye on our rivals. I think I spent four days without sleeping, as I was scared that my opponents would go for an option while I dozed.” With Franck Cammas out of reach, Francis was determined to hang on to second place. He needed to ward off attacks from Thomas Coville, at the helm of what was practically a sister-ship, Sodebo, based on the same design by Nigel Irens, but with a slightly longer waterline length. It was an exciting finish, as Francis and Thomas had to deal with light headwinds to get to Pointe-à-Pitre. Francis would finally finish around fifteen hours ahead of Thomas, with Groupama crossing the line in first place ten hours ahead of IDEC SPORT. It was this very same Groupama 3 that would win the following edition after being rechristened Banque Populaire VII, with Loïck Peyron at the helm.
“I’m pleased with getting second place, my best result in the Rhum,” Francis admitted. “I quickly saw that Franck was flying away. This was no longer sailing as we knew it. From the first day, he got a lead of a hundred miles. My ambition of winning the race was soon dashed when he took off like that.”
See you next week for a look at Francis Joyon’s sixth and final attempt at the Route du Rhum in 2014.