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Speedsailing Chronicles: Joyon Poised

The French solo multihull master Francis Joyon is aiming to own the four biggest speed sailing records, which he calls, appropriately, the Grand Slam.

April 4, 2013
Francis Joyon

Francis Joyon

Francis Joyon

You probably wouldn’t know it, because for Francis Joyon, it is more about the sailing than it is about the glory. But if the French solo multihull master picks off the New York-Lizard transatlantic record sometime this spring, he will have achieved a feat that is unprecedented in the annals of solo singlehanded speed sailing: simultaneous ownership of the four biggest records (the Jules Verne, the 24-hour record, and both the eastgoing and westgoing transatlantic records). His team is calling it, appropriately, the Grand Slam, which is about as much hype as you ever get from the stoic Breton.

Even if Joyon doesn’t go out of his way to draw attention to his sailing prowess and achievements, the Grand Slam would be a fitting pinnacle for the 57-year old sailor. Over the past decade, Joyon has been without question the steadiest, toughest, most indomitable solo sailor criss-crossing the oceans. His seamanship and ability to make his 97-foot Nigel Irens trimaran sail at consistently high speeds was best highlighted by his absolute destruction of the Jules Verne course in 2007-’08. In 2005 Ellen MacArthur had nabbed the record (by just a day!) from Joyon sailing a previous IDEC, with a circumnavigation of 71 days and 14 hours. Joyon unfortunately wrecked that IDEC on the French coast in 2005, following a successful transatlantic bid, but came back with the new Irens IDEC in 2007, and proceeded to lap the planet in just 57 days and 14 hours. That is a difference measured in weeks, not days.

Joyon was blessed by near-perfect weather, but axing 20 percent off MacArthur’s time was astonishing, no matter how you look at it. In fact, Joyon’s solo time was faster than any fully-crewed multihull had managed before 2005, and is a record that could easily last another decade.

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Joyon’s arrival in Brest.

Since MacArthur, the only solo multihull specialist to cause Joyon any trouble has been Thomas Coville, who took the New York-Lizard transatlantic record away from Joyon in July 2008, with a time of 5 days, 19 hours. In 2007 and 2008, Coville also took control of the solo 24-hour record, again wresting it from Joyon, and he is still the current recordholder, at 628.5 miles. Colville’s assault on Joyon’s supremacy stopped there, leaving the Cadiz-San Salvador Transatlantic, and the round-the-world records in Joyon’s name (though Coville did claim it for a while in 2008). It wasn’t for lack of trying, and Coville’s attempt to beat Joyon’s RTW record in 2011 did at least contribute this epic near-pitchpole to the annals of solo sailing lore.

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As MacArthur learned, though, Joyon never really lets a record go–he simply loans them out for a while. In 2012, Joyon took to the Atlantic to reclaim the 24-hour record, driving IDEC 666.2 nautical miles, which stands as the current record. That leaves Joyon with just one more title to reclaim: Coville’s New York-Lizard transatlantic mark. As a warm-up, in February, sailing without any shore-based routing support, Joyon tightened his grip on the Cadiz-San Salvador record by improving on his previous record time and setting a new standard of 8 days, 16 hours. That is nearly a day faster than the outright, crewed time I watched Steve Fossett and PlayStation set in 2003. So if I want to a sense of how hard Joyon pushes a sailboat, and what he is capable of, all I have to do is recall all the work required by PlayStation’s full crew to achieve what Joyon achieved alone.

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If Joyon pockets Coville’s transatlantic record, it will join the three other solo-sailing majors that are already there, the first time that has ever happened. That is Tiger Woods, Hank Aaron, and Michael Jordan territory, and there could be no more deserving sailor than the humble and self-effacing Joyon, who has quietly but dramatically expanded the realm of the possible when it comes to relentlessly pushing big, modern, multihulls at unimaginable speeds across the world’s oceans. I’ll be rooting for him. But given his record of achievement to date, and if he has any luck with the weather, I fully expect we’ll see Joyon with a small, knowing, smile creasing his face as he arrives in France.

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