Le Cleac’h Takes On Fastest Sailor Alive

Armel Le Cleac’h is poised to give Francis Joyon a run for his money.

In one week, Armel Le Cleac’h has beaten Francis Joyon’s records for the longest distance sailed singlehandedly for 24 hours and the fastest time to complete the Discovery Route of the Americas from Cadiz, Spain to the Bahamas island of San Salvador. (The records must be confirmed by the World Record Sailing Speed Council in order for them to become official.)

But while Le Cleac’h’s has only broken two of Joyon’s long grocery list of records, his feats this week are just a start, he says. In many ways, the Discovery Route was a warm-up for when Le Cleac’h hopes to later best Joyon’s New York-to-Cap-Lizard-France transat record in May. He also plans to go head-to-head against Joyon, who many consider to be the fastest singlehanded sailor alive, in the fabled Route du Rhum in the Ultime Class fleet in November.

Le Cleac’h arrived at San Salvador on Thursday, 6 days and 23 hours within striking distance of shaving off two full days from Joyon’s Discovery Route record of 8 days and 16 hours.


Le Cleac’h’s completion of the course was also only 9 hours behind the best time a boat with a crew sailed the Discovery Route, for which Spindrift 2 holds the title. Incredibly, Le Cleac’h’s bested the time by 9 hours of the previous crewed-boat record, held by_ Groupama 3_ which, as it turns out, is Le Cleac’h’s current Banque Populaire boat.

Indeed, Groupama 3, before it became Banque Populaire VII, was designed to be sailed by a crew. The monster-sized multihull measures 31.50 meters by 22.50 meters and, and by its sheer size alone, is supposedly faster than Joyon’s IDEC. Franck Cammas skippered his crew on the craft to break the Jules Verne around-the-world record, while he also sailed it to win the last Route du Rhum in 2010.

But Le Cleac’h’s Discovery Route record hinged on more than Banque Populaire‘s sheer size and speed, of course. Le Cleac’h’ was not completely sure he would succeed even if he was 577 miles ahead of Joyon’s best time, with only 644 miles remaining. He was worried, for example, about the possibility that the wind might die down as it often does near the Bahamas. Before completing the course, he needed to continue paying careful attention to heavy boat traffic and being on the alert for sudden wind gusts and other hazards that can cause a multihull giant of Banque Populaire‘s size to crash in just a few seconds. He also had at least four jibes to complete, which on Banque Populaire VII is the physical equivalent of running 800 meters in a track meet.


Le Cleac’h says he surmounted these and other challenges, largely from becoming much better acquainted with Banque Populaire VII.

“I found my stride during this course on Banque Populaire VII, which is as long as the Route du Rhum,” Le Cleac’h said shortly after arriving to port. “The design changes to the boat worked well. I was also able to anticipate the maneuvers I had to make, which are always physically challenging–but I didn’t experience any major breakages.”

Meanwhile, the 24-hour distance record of 682 miles that Le Cleac’h also broke this week was something Le Cleac’h previously thought he would accomplish later this year and not during his Discovery Route course. He attributed it to being at the right place at the right time.


“The conditions after the Canary Islands were perfect for maintaining speed, even though I did not push the envelope too much,” Le Cleac’h said. “The sea state was optimal as well, and my multihull was often sailing as fast as the wind at about 30 knots when I broke the record.”

To put it into perspective, Le Cleac’h managed to maintain an average speed of 28.20 knots to beat the 24-hour distance record after making his way past the Canary Islands. He needed to complete the Discovery Route while sailing faster than an average speed of 18.66 knots in order to break Joyon’s record for this course.

After sailing on a supposedly faster boat after breaking two of Joyon’s records this week, Le Cleac’h could pose a challenge to Joyon’s dominance as the world’s fastest sailor. But needless to say, Joyon, who amazingly has found ways to push IDEC in ways that no one else would dare to do, has thousands and thousands of sea miles left in him. Regards, this year’s Route du Rhum is certainly going to be interesting.

Sailing World
Armel Le Cleac’h on Banque Populaire VII