Britain's Brian Thompson is poised to join the world's fastest boat for a world record attempt
The fast lane south to the Equator is opening up for business this weekend and the 14-man crew of the world’s fastest multihull are confident they will get the green light for an attempt to break the outright round the world record.
Skipper Pascal Bidégorry and his crew are hoping to lop two days off the record time in their 130ft trimaran Banque Populaire V. That sounds modest until you remember that this is a target to cover 28,000 miles in a mere 48 days. Put another way, that would mean a pummelling six-week average speed of 24.5 knots.
Banque Populaire is the largest oceangoing multihull ever built for the Jules Verne round the world record. It is also the most complex, with a canting mast and curved foil daggerboards. It has sheets loads so high the crew need 2:1 purchases and hydraulic rams to control them.
When I went for a trial sail on the then newly launched giant in 2008 in a breeze of 10-12 knots and not a white cap in sight the apparent wind was so much higher it felt like a continual near gale on board. Even in that light wind, this boat was easily able to jog along at up to 27 knots.
Since then, Banque Populaire has covered well over 20,000 miles. The crew is well practised and the boat well proven. When she broke the North Atlantic record in 2009 she covered a breathtaking 908 miles in 24 hours.
That’s not something her crew will be trying to better on this world record attempt. British sailor Brian Thompson (above), the sole ‘Anglo-Saxon’, is mindful that “only 33% of Jules Verne attempts end in success.”
Most fail because of gear or structural failure. It’s a risky business, the more so now that the current 50-day record pits risk against a diminished margin of potential improvement.
The first hurdle has been to get the weather needed to set off on the record. That’s become harder as the speeds of these big multis has increased and the runway gets longer and longer. “Because of the speeds of these boats a 14-day forecast can you past Cape Town,” Thompson explains.
“After seven days the forecast isn’t so accurate so you have to put more weight on the beginning, but you need to get Biscay, the Canaries and the tradewinds all lined up to get to the Equator in six days and after that if it works out down towards Rio and the St Helena High it’s a bonus.”
That’s a big change from when Thompson, 48, sailed on Steve Fossett’s Cheyenne and broke the record in 2003. “Then we just looked as far as the Canaries,” he says.
Thompson says he is “feeling good about the reliability of the boat”. Banque Populaire benefited from lessons learned during the attempts of Franck Cammas’s smaller trimaran Groupama 3, also designed by VPLP.
But he adds: “Even if we did have perfect reliability to make a 24.5 knot average you need good luck. You could park up in the South or North Atlantic on the way back.”
Thompson’s role is as a helmsman and trimmer. He tells me that the boat is “really exciting” to steer (they didn’t let me have a go, no surprise), but very demanding. “Average speeds are in the low 30 [knots] – say 30-35 knots with some decent breeze, ie over 18 knots. But often you are limited by sea state.
“The boat is very powered up; you can definitely feel the power. The load on the sheets are incredible. We half the loads with a 2:1 system so the winches don’t blow up.
“It’s very easy to fly a hull. It’s a very narrow edge between coming up too high, and the boat powers up very, very quickly and flies a hull and being too low and slowing down. You’ve got to manoeuvre round the waves a bit as you overtake them and keep the apparent wind at the right angle.
“You have got to be careful, as you’re sailing the boat at the limit all the time.”
When I interviewed Marcel Van Triest, navigator on board during their successful Atlantic record and now the on-shore router, about life at speed he told me the boat is “shockingly noisy. ”
“It’s the only boat I’ve ever been on where every single crewmember off watch wears earplugs. The noise of the water off the foils and along the hull is incredible. On deck, we use a wireless intercom system – and you need it,” he confessed.
Thompson has that to come, but he concedes that the boat at speed is “like a demented subway ride. You have got to hold on to handholds all the time.”
But the boat is so high out of the water, and has such a high aft crossbeam that the crew do have some protection from water.
“It’s not as wet as a Volvo boat or an IMOCA 60 which are much closer to the water. There is always a lot of spray around and a light mist spewing off the bows, but when a wave hits you at 30 or 40 knots that will be an experience,” he says.
He will soon know. Thompson’s bag is packed – a very tiny bag containing just a toothbrush and his passport.
Everything else has been ready and stowed on board for weeks as he and the other 13 crew have been poised on standby, prepared to give this record their best shot.
You can follow Brian Thompson’s progress as he sends daily reports from the record attempt and weekly video diaries to www.yachtingworld.com