When he finished in London on Wednesday 19th February shattering the Tea Route record by more than four days, Francis Joyon also brought the highly original and challenging IDEC SPORT ASIAN TOUR to an end. This was a major adventure, a voyage with historic overtones of the Spice Route, the Silk Route and the Tea Route, four Herculean tasks, which were all crowned in glory. Between Brittany and the edges of Asia and China, two new reference times were set and two records broken, ending triumphantly with this voyage halfway around the world between Hong Kong and London. An epic voyage that can be summed up with some figures: 67 days of sailing, 35,000 miles covered out on the water averaging more than twenty knots. Sailing solo, then with a short-handed crew, the IDEC SPORT maxi-trimaran continues to amaze the world of sailing. Francis Joyon has once again attracted the admiration and respect of all with his ability to achieveng such feats without any unnecessary fuss. He is a simple sailor, who respects nature and enjoys exploring and cherishing it.
Act 1 – The Mauritius Route: 19 days, 18 hours, 14 minutes and 45 seconds
Francis Joyon made it all look so easy. On 8th November he shattered his own record set ten years ago on the Spice Route referred to as the Mauritius route, finishing after 19 days, 18 hours, 14 minutes and 45 seconds, improving on the previous record by 6 days and 10 hours. Joyon, sailing solo, completed the 8950 theoretical miles from Port Louis in Southern Brittany sailing a mind-blowing 11,000 miles out on the water, averaging 23.2 knots. The perfect start to this new campaign of records in Asia. The record was not one you could take for granted. “Our weather opportunity was far from ideal,” he explained, “But as we later saw, there was nothing really interesting coming up in the following days or weeks. We had to set off in order to stick to our schedule in Asia.” In just over seven days and two hours, IDEC SPORT reached the Equator. Saint Helena and her high pressure system stretching out to Brazil offered a tough challenge, but Francis coped well. The SE’ly trade winds propelled IDEC SPORT far to the West to get away from a desperately huge area of calm weather in the heart of the South Atlantic. IDEC SPORT headed towards the SW away from the direct route, and suffered losses. On the eleventh day of sailing, Francis was a few miles (up to 27) behind the pace he set on the second IDEC boat ten years earlier, when he was able to cut across the South Atlantic. With the forecasting skills of his router, Christian Dumard, back on dry land, Francis spotted a nice low pressure system off the coast of Uruguay, allowing him to get back up to the high speeds he managed in 2017 during his incredible Jules Verne Trophy. “I hopped onto the front of the low, which was moving eastwards. Christian and I thought we would soon drop off the system and that I would have to wait for many long hours for a second system, which also looked very interesting.” But as the hours slipped by, sticking to the northern edge of the low with its powerful NW’ly winds, IDEC SPORT worked wonders once again, lining up days of sailing more than 600 miles and convincing the skipper that he might be able to stay with that system all the way. “This would mean saving two days by the Cape of Good Hope,” explained Francis: “So I held on tight! It is not very often that you manage to take advantage of a weather system for so long,” smiled Francis. “We managed to do that with the crew of IDEC SPORT in the Jules Verne Trophy.” But it cost a lot. Francis admitted that he found it hard to see his boat being punished. “She jumped from wave to wave and I heard noises that I had never heard before. The night just before the Cape of Good Hope was the worst with 10 metre high waves. I was tired but had to keep going. That’s where the record was decided.”
Act 2: Mauritius – Ho Chi Minh City (Vietnam): 12 days, 20 hours, 37 minutes and 55 seconds.
Twelve days after so successfully completing the first Act of his ASIAN TOUR, shattering the Mauritius Route record by more than six days, Francis Joyon set out to tackle the second episode in his voyage to Asia and back. On 21st November, he set sail with a crew this time from Mauritius on a route that has not been taken by modern ocean race boats, a route across the Indian Ocean to the China Sea, Vietnam and its capital, Ho Chi Minh City. A new record attempt on an exotic route to the Far East, passing between Java and Sumatra via the Sunda Strait, Indonesia, Malaysia and the China Sea, before entering the Mekong Delta and the former Saigon that has been called Ho Chi Minh City since 1976. More than 4000 miles of complicated sailing against the trade winds, with calms and lots of shipping in the China Sea, one of the busiest areas in the world. Living up to his friendly reptation, Francis called upon some loyal sailors. “Our Boat Captain, Bertrand Delesne, who has worked so hard on the boat over the past few months, is quite naturally with us,” he explained. “Also on the boat the same group that delivered the boat home last year after the Route du Rhum, with Christophe Houdet, who cannot remember whether he has crossed the Atlantic 60 or 70 times. Antoine Blouet, who has been working on the boat for some time and my son, Corentin, who knows the boat now like the back of his hand.” Five men to sail the giant, the Monster, as they affectionately call the IDEC SPORT maxi-trimaran.
12 days, 20 hours, 37 minutes and 55 seconds. The maritime adventure was full of contrasts and surprises. IDEC SPORT moored up in the former capital of ‘Cochinchina’ on 4th December after a theoretical voyage of around 4000 miles, but due to the weather Francis and his men were forced to sail 5400 miles in the Indian Ocean and China Sea. High speeds, periods of flat calm conditions, the long swell of the Southern Ocean, the choppy seas of the enclosed China and Java Seas, a maritime wilderness and extremely busy shipping lanes, the chilly weather coming up from the Antarctic, the intense heat of Indonesia… They were looking forward to a big adventure and that is something the five sailors certainly got. They were often lost for words seeing the wonders and strange landscapes of the Far East. This was a voyage in three shades of grey for Francis, Corentin, Christophe, Bertrand and Antoine. The bright grey of the Southern Ocean, the misty, smoky grey of the Karimata Strait between Sumatra and Borneo, and the leaden grey of the China Sea whipped up by the powerful NE’ly air stream. The Southern interlude came to a sudden end to be replaced by hot weather and boiling conditions as they crossed the Equator, which they celebrated in style off Borneo for Antoine Blouet, the only crewman not to have done that before.
The bright blue skies and emerald waters of Mauritius were replaced by the light of the Southern Ocean. In order to get to the Sunda Strait, the gateway to the China Sea, Francis and his sailors deliberately chose to dive a very long way south right down to 37 degrees South. The 3000 miles separating Mauritius from the South of Sumatra turned into 4200 miles of fast sailing with the NE’ly trade wind on the beam in the Indian Ocean. Averaging close to 23 knots out on the water, and with some amazing days clocking up almost 750 miles in 24 hours, Francis Joyon reached Indonesia on the eighth day of racing. The most mysterious part of this Asian voyage began here. Francis, the record-breaker, became Francis the Explorer, discovering seas that modern race boats rarely visit. The strength of the contrary currents along the coast of Sumatra and the total absence of wind meant the maxi trimaran’s speed dropped right off. “We worked our guts out for three days to avoid being pushed backwards,” explained Francis. With a mixture of curiosity, fascination and the need to watch out for unexpected squalls, fishing boats, islands and fishermen’s wooden huts in the middle of the sea, the crew of IDEC SPORT had to dive deep into their physical reserves to make any headway and to get away from this area abandoned by the wind. Sailing upwind, carrying out a series of changes of tack and sail changes with each variation of the light airs around the islands of Bangka and Belitung, the men on IDEC SPORT were pleased to be able to make their way out of the Karimata Strait sailing close to the coast of Borneo. The result was they only managed to sail 550 miles in three days. A pitiful performance taking into account the real potential of the boat in the right conditions. The mighty trimaran then had a bumpy ride over the final 500 miles in the China Sea. “Waves in excess of four metres coming straight at us made the boat bounce around in every direction,” added Francis. “It was impossible to sleep inside the boat. We leapt 9 inches out of our bunks.” Wisely, Francis came around slightly to have the waves and the wind on the beam to look after his faithful boat. They then had to work out how to approach the Vietnamese Peninsula. The exhausted sailors experienced another episode of light airs, and were forced once again to keep close watch to avoid the thousands of surprises in these busy, yet unregulated waters… Francis wisely chose to wait for the first light of day to make his way between the junks and sampans around Vung Tau, the big commercial port to the south of Ho Chi Minh City. The race time, which is the new reference time for this distance, was significantly lower than forecast at the start, as they had thought it would take more than a fortnight.
Ho Chi Minh (Vietnam) – Shenzhen (China): 2 days, 20 hours, 28 minutes and 51 seconds
The IDEC SPORT maxi-trimaran skippered by Francis Joyon and his crew, crossed the finish line of the new route between Ho Chi Minh City (Vietnam) and Shenzhen (China), the third Act of the IDEC SPORT Asian Tour, at 2324rs (UTC) on Tuesday 17th December 2019. With 844 theoretical miles sailed in two days, 20 hours, 28 minutes and 51 seconds, averaging 12.3 knots, out on the water they sailed 1011.81 miles at an average speed of 14.8 knots. IDEC SPORT thus completed the third of the 4 Herculean tasks, when they entered the Pearl River delta separating Macao from Shenzhen and the finish line for this new record, the shortest, but also the most difficult in terms of the physical effort. “For 36 hours, the boat, which has experienced some of the world’s nastiest seas, was punished like never before,” admitted Francis. “With winds coming straight at us at more than 35 knots and hellish seas, the boat slammed continually in the rough seas. We were well and truly shaken up and when we finished passing the dozens of islands blocking the way to Shenzhen, it was a huge relief for the whole crew. Fortunately the seas gradually eased as we advanced and the wind veered slightly to offer us a more finish with the ENE’ly wind on the beam. Thousands of fishing boats, a bit like off Vietnam were working in the area with their long lines spread right out. An amazing sight! We are pleased that it is over now. For two months, we have dedicated ourselves to the boat, and a short break will do us a lot of good, before we tackle the Tea Route and the record held by Giovanni Soldini after the festive season.”
Reaching the pinnacle: IDEC SPORT smashes the Tea Route record
The longest coast to coast sailing record apart from the round the world race, the Tea Route was something that intrigued Francis and his men when they set sail from Hong Kong, sailing from East to West against the prevailing weather systems. The absence of the trade winds in the Indian Ocean, and the threat of cyclones, meant there were a number of uncertainties about the ability of the giant trimaran to do better than Giovanni Soldini’s former MOD70 Maserati, as she was particularly at ease in light conditions. But by smashing the record time between Hong Kong and London on Wednesday 19th February 2020, in just over a month of sailing, Francis Joyon and his crew of four not only beat Giovanni Soldini’s time by more than four days, but practically divided by three the time it took the big clippers of the 19th Century. Throughout the 15,000 miles sailed at an average speed of 20.7 knots, the maxi-trimaran went through almost every wind and sea condition, sunshine and cloud, and temperature range. Some smooth sailing, some traps, surprises, a bumpy ride at times and uncomfortable conditions. The China Sea, the Indian Ocean, the South and North Atlantic…
The five sailors sailed more than halfway around the world at record speed, pushing back the frontiers of performance. Looking for sheer speed in the China Sea and Indian Ocean, rounding without hitch the tip of South Africa, showing patience and inspiration in the calms in the South Atlantic, and a magnificent climb back up the North Atlantic ensured the success of this attempt. After a few days spent in London, IDEC SPORT will return to her quiet home port of La Trinité-sur-Mer in Brittany with two new records and having set two reference times to new destinations.
Bertrand Delesne: “This was really a great voyage, an epic journey. We saw just how huge the oceans are and it is hard to imagine what sailing must have been like before the 21st Century. This was a rare opportunity in the life of a sailor.”
Corentin Joyon: “32 days of non-stop sailing. This has been my longest trip. I am in great shape. This was a fantastic adventure, with a marvellous crew. We got on with each other, worked well together and everything was perfectly coordinated. For the first time I saw some albatrosses. It was fascinating to watch them. It is nice to think there are still some untouched places on Earth.”
Christophe Houdet: “It was a huge pleasure, really enjoyable to sail in these places in this way. We discovered the wonders of the China Sea, tropical islands with some incredible colours, with deserted, paradise beaches. Getting to see those places on a boat transporting you at high speed is a privilege and we enjoyed every second of it. There was a friendly atmosphere aboard with everyone pulling together and being kind to each other. Francis was always watching out for squalls and was ready to act. IDEC SPORT is a unique and fantastic boat.”