Francis Joyon prepares for the most stressful voyage in the world


What a beast this is for one man to handle, even one as experienced and uncrushable as Francis Joyon.

Joyon is getting ready; the clock is counting down. Any week now when the weather is right, the 51-year-old Frenchman will be leaving in his 97ft Nigel Irens designed trimaran, with every intention of wresting the solo round the world record he set in 2004 back from Ellen MacArthur.

For her part, Ellen is a little torn. She is godmother to the rival contestant, her pal Thomas Coville’s Sodeb’O, a slightly larger and much more complex Irens trimaran . But one thing she seems resigned to is that, one way or the other, the record will tumble.

“I’m sure one of them will break the record this winter,” she says, pointing to three good reasons why this should be so.

“They’ re both bigger boats so, in theory, they’ll be faster. We spent a lot of time with a reef in so even if you had a bigger boat with the same size mast it’s still going to be as quick or quicker than B&Q. And I remember that I was five days ahead at Cape Horn and had the worst South Atlantic you could possibly have, so yes it’s beatable.”

The steepest hurdle with this kind of sailing is the intense stress it places on the sailor – something that is bound to increase if Joyon and Coville find each other in direct competition. As Ellen explains it:

“It’s far harder than the Vendée Globe, where the stress levels are quite different because the boat’s just not going as fast. This is like driving at 90mph rather than 60; you are absolutely hanging on to the steering wheel.

“You don’t feel hungry, you’re nervous all the time, you’re waiting for the next thing to go wrong, because it always will. To live with that for two-and-a-half months takes a huge toll on your body.”

You can read more on this story in our December issue.

Photos courtesy of Jean-Marie Liot