Going back to his roots in the Route du Rhum is making Peyron happy

French legend Loïck Peyron has caught a note in the public mood by preparing a 36-year-old wooden trimaran to race in the solo Route du Rhum race in November. Peyron will take time away from his role as helmsman for America’s Cup team Artemis Racing to sail what will be one of the oldest, slowest and, at 31 feet, smallest yachts in a race that has become dominated by giant multihulls.

Peyron has a long history in the Route du Rhum – this will be his seventh entry in the four-yearly event, in a career that goes back through revolutionary fast trimarans such as Fujifilm and Fujicolor. But his new boat is real throw-back. She is Happy, designed by Walter Greene, and a sistership to Olympus Photo, which Canadian Mike Birch sailed to an enthralling victory in the first Route du Rhum in 1978.

Birch had been racing the little trimaran against much bigger monohulls, and Michel Malinovsky was expected to win in his then huge cigar-shaped 70-footer Kriter. This was in the days of traditional navigation and communication only by radio, and to spectators’ surprise when Kriter, the leading boat, came in sight Olympus Photo was there too, in close pursuit. The two skippers duelled right to the line at Point à Pitre in Guadeloupe, and to everyone’s amazement Olympus Photo overhauled the bigger yacht and, after 23 days at sea, Mike Birch won by 98 seconds.

So astonishing was this win and so great the resulting interest in the design of the little yellow boat that it provoked in France what was to be an enduring fascinating with multihulls. A generation of young sailors and designers, sailors such as the two Peyron brothers, Loïck and Bruno, and designers Nigel Irens, Marc Lombard, Vincent Lauriot-Prévost and Marc Van Peteghem shaped, and were shaped by, developments that sprang from this seminal moment.

Now Peyron is preparing to relive the experience and aiming to beat Birch’s time in the first Route du Rhum. It was an idea that came to him when he saw the boat advertised online. She was one of several sisterships to Olympus Photo and was lying near Plymouth. Peyron bought her and she was taken to Multiplast in Vannes, Brittany, where the yard gave Peyron space to carry out his own refit.

Read more in the next issue of Yachting World, out on 14 August. Meawhile, see these great photos by Christophe Launay.