Jules Verne Delivers Southern-Ocean Speed Fix

With the Volvo Ocean Race headed for the Middle East, Banque Populaire's round-the-world record attempt takes race fans to offshore sailing's most thrilling arena.

The Volvo Ocean Race fleet has arrived in Cape Town—or at least the half of the fleet that managed to stay in one piece has. In years past, this would be a time of Southern Ocean anticipation, with crews and sailing junkies preparing for the dramatic sleigh ride to New Zealand, with boats surfing down the monster, storm-driven waves rolling eastward around the bottom of the Indian Ocean. But with Volvo's marketing interests drawing the fleet toward the Middle East, that spectacle is not to be—at least not until the fleet heads around Cape Horn. Bummer.

But for anyone needing a Southern Ocean fix, the 131-foot trimaran Banque Populaire is currently speeding toward that legendary sailing arena. Banque Pop, which set off last week on a Jules Verne record bid, has been flying a bit under the radar on this side of the Atlantic, thanks in part to the Gallic aversion to publishing sailing websites in English. Of course, we don't publish websites in French, so fair is fair. Besides, you don't need words to appreciate the drama of a full-on, round-the-world, speed-sailing voyage.

Sailing doesn't get any more pure than the Jules Verne. No real rules, no limits. Just racing non-stop, as fast as possible, on a full circumnavigation of the globe. Naturally, since multihulls and adventure—not to mention the French science-fiction author—are involved, the French are passionate about the Jules Verne, and French sailors dominate the disciple. Since Bruno Peyron first managed a sub-80 day circumnavigation in 1993, Robin Knox-Johnston and Peter Blake have been the only Anglos to interrupt the French record parade. Steve Fossett completed a record circumnavigation in 2004 but was denied the JV trophy because he refused to pay the entry fee. In the last two decades, the record time has dropped by 40 percent. The current JV record, set by Franck Cammas and the crew of Groupama 3 in 2010, stands at 48 days, 7 hours.

Routing specialists say the right weather could bring the record close to 40 days, which is slightly longer than it takes many sailboats to cross a single ocean. And if any multihull and crew have a legit shot at flirting with the 40-day barrier, it's Banque Pop. The irrepressible Loick Peyron, brother of Bruno, is skippering, and Juan Vila is navigating. The boat itself is a beast, and over the past few years has racked up prominent speed-sailing records, including the West/East transatlantic (3 days, 15.5 hours at an average speed of nearly 33 knots!) and the 24-hour record (908.2 nautical miles at 37.84 knots). The only important crown missing is the Jules Verne.

www.voile.banquepopulaire.fr

So far, Banque Pop is off to a blazing fast start and looking good. The big tri sailed from the Channel across the Equator in just 5 days and 15 hours (beating G3 by about 4 hours), and after six days was already off the coast of Brazil. That's enough to build up more than a 100-mile lead over G3's virtual 2010 track, which is nothing really, given the speeds these boats travel. The spectacular Southern Ocean speed trial—nearly 10,000 miles to Cape Horn—is next, with its solid breeze, wild surfing runs, and omnipresent danger of colliding with whales or ice.

You can follow Banque Pop's wild ride through the team's website, and the tracker. And if you don't speak good French, I recommend Sailing Anarchy's Banque Pop JV thread, and the blog being kept by Banque Pop's lone English crew, Brian Thompson.

Here's Banque Pop crossing the Equator. The videos from here on in will only get more crazy. Can't wait.