How Joyon smashed solo Atlantic record

Seamanship and imperviousness to stress marked Francis Joyon's Atlantic record

Joyon Atlantic record

Bravo Francis Joyon.

With a scorching display of boatspeed and human endurance, France's enigmatic rocket man Francis Joyon pulverised the solo transatlantic record on 15 June, sailing from New York to the Lizard to set a new time of 5 days 2 hours.

This record has had only six holders - twice by Joyon, 57 - and there is a very good reason for this. Few have the wherewithal, experience or courage to try it.

There is a world of differerence between attempting an Atlantic record on the edge of a gale with a full crew and keeping a highly strung giant trimaran at the brink all alone. Not everyone can handle it physically or mentally, or has the level of seamanship required to dance, as it demands, along the edge of capsize or breakage.

The heartstopping photo above gives a tiny inkling of just how stressful it must have been for Joyon. It shows his arrival at the finish line of the record off The Lizard, still racing at full pelt while close to shipping and closing on land.

Joyon got the go-ahead for this record from his longtime weather adviser, Jean-Yves Bernot, on 10 June. He left New York and hurtled past Ambrose Light on 11 June to establish himself in the favorable portion of the weather system, ahead of the front and where the sea was not too formed.

Heading east, Joyon's course diverged around 200 miles south of Thomas Coville's previous record-setting route, lengthening the distance sailed from a shortest Great Circle distance of  2,865 miles to 3,222 miles over the ground. This southerly route gave him 25-30 knots of wind for almost the entire distance.

Twice on 13 June he had to gybe, sacrificing miles to add keep away from the centre of the low and in the right pressure gradient. Apart from those few hours Joyon was flat-out on starboard tack all the way.

Jean-Yves Bernot says that their communication about weather was limited to one email in the morning, another in the evening and an occasional "little chat". For every possible waking moment Joyon was on deck to modulate the boat's performance.

"At one point I tried to slow down to rest," Joyon says, "but I had a guilty conscience so I put canvas back on."

Joyon's average speed over the course sailed was a nerve-jangling 26.2 knots and his highest instantaneous speed more than 40 knots. To have succeeded is a testament to his seamanship and he adds this to three other great solo records including his 57-day solo round the world record and last year's solo 24-hour run of 666 miles.

Read my profile of him here.

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