Marc Guillemot allegedly sailed the wrong way up shipping lanes during Round Britain record attempt. Cynical or incompetent?

French sailor Marc Guillemot’s recent attempt to break the monohull Round Britain and Ireland record will go down as one he may want to forget. The bid was brought to a halt near the Shetland Islands two weeks ago when the keel canting mechanism of his IMOCA 60 Safran jammed.

Guillemot is, however, still in trouble – and with a problem that will be trickier to resolve. He is facing a possible court case for repeatedly sailing the wrong way up the shipping lanes as he went through the Dover Strait.

Safran was tracked going against the flow of shipping in the Traffic Separation Scheme off Dover and, according to the Maritime Coastguard Agency (MCA), is under investigation for violating Rule 10 of the Collision Regulations.

This puts Guillmot at risk of a hefty fine.

On a delivery to London in 2006, French sailor Antoine Koch sailed the ORMA 60 trimaran Sopra No 8 the wrong way up the south-west going Traffic Separation lane. He spent two hours sailing against the traffic.

Koch was prosecuted by the MCA and fined £15,000 plus £2,600 in costs. The Magistrates said: “This fine is more than justified, you knew what you were doing was wrong. You were putting lives at risk. You are a professional seafarer, you are experienced, and it is your business to navigate safely. You were putting your crew at risk.”

Before that in 2000, Grant Dalton was fined £12,000 and £3,000 in costs when he went the wrong way up the Dover TSS in the maxi catamaran Club Med.

The Maritime and Coastguard Agency declined to comment while the case is under investigation, but it sounds like Safran’s case is equally, if not more, serious than the earlier prosecutions.

Captain Andrew Phillips of the MCA’s Enforcement Department says that radar tracking shows Safran breaking the collision regulations on three separate occasions. I asked him if it was a case of cutting through the lanes at too shallow an angle and he was adamant: “No, it shows there were going the wrong way in the lane.”

While I (sort of) understand the temptation to cut a corner during a record, these cases show that some racing sailors think their ambitions put them above the rules. Or perhaps they know they should comply, but don’t think Dover Coastguard and the Channel Navigation Information Service are watching everyone like hawks.

Then again, perhaps these skippers know all this but think a fine would be worth paying for the saving in miles and time, especially if no-one bothers with the story and it doesn’t dent their publicity back home. On balance, I suspect it’s probably the latter.

If so, that is dangerously cynical.