Francis Joyon's outstanding new solo record has reignited a few sailors' ambitions


Francis Joyon, the reluctant hero, looked slightly nonplussed at the hoopla that greeted his arrival in Brest this morning. His solo record of 57 days and 13 hours not only beats Ellen’s solo record by 14 days, but is the second fastest ever. Incredibly, his average speed round the world in the 97ft trimaran IDEC is over 19 knots.

If the feat seems superhuman, the man himself emphatically does not. Joyon waved shyly at a crowd of several hundreds, small by French sailing standards, and seemed faintly embarrassed by the attention. Joyon is famously a quiet-spoken man who says little, preferring to let his actions speak for themselves. With this record, and his natural reticence, he has become the natural successor to France’s most revered and private sailor, Eric Tabarly.

In a world obsessed with ‘communicating the experience’ Joyon stands out. He sent back a grand total of four photos before he gave up on the technology and he filmed nothing. He has no truck with distractions. When I remark to Ellen MacArthur, whose attitude to media duties verges on the self-sacrificing, how unusual it is to know so little about a voyage she replies: “Yes, and we probably never will know any more.”

It has added a frisson of mystery to this record and Joyon’s feat seems to have fired up renewed determination among sailors who have been ‘resting’ to go out and emulate or better it. And not just Thomas Coville, whose ill-fated Sodebo nonetheless promises to be even quicker. Now that Ellen’s record has been soundly thrashed, she is dropping hints that she will return to claim it back.

“It’s pretty motivating being here, I have to say,” she comments. “But I’ll decide before I say anything at all. Last time I decided to do it I didn’t say anything for two years. But,” she adds, tapping her head and laughing: “you never know what’s going on in here!”

Another whose ambition has been reignited is Philippe Monnet, who once laid claim to the solo record round the world in a multihull, and once also had the record for the fastest non-stop ‘wrong way’ circumnavigation. He says he’d like to buy Ellen’s trimaran B&Q and be the first to sail solo westabout in a multihull, and he had a discussion with designer Nigel Irens only today about how best to modify the boat.

“I’d have to change the back of the floats to make them better for going upwind, but I’m looking for money first,” he says.

Joyon meanwhile will probably go off into the Pacific go cruising with his family in his catamaran, as he did last winter. But he’ll be back this spring or summer to complete a two-year programme and see if he can better his own solo Atlantic record from 2005, and to have a tilt at the transPacific record and others.

This really is an amazing story, and there is far, far more to it than one could possibly do justice to online, so don’t miss our eight page feature in the next Yachting World.

Photo courtesy of Thierry Martinez