When the Jules Verne Trophy was first announced in 1990 it was not known whether it would be possible for a yacht to sail around the globe in less than 80 days. All we knew then was that the time for a non-stop circumnavigation was getting shorter than the 312 days set by solo sailor Sir Robin Knox-Johnston in 1969.
Nevertheless, that time has been whittled away, with notable voyages including Banque Populaire Vll’s incredible 45 days in 2012, achieved with a crew of 14 people. Single-handed sailor Thomas Coville notched up a significant milestone in 2016, reducing the solo record time to a seemingly incredible, 49 days. Last season, Francis Joyon’s crew of six completed a circumnavigation in a shade under 41 days.
These feats give context to Francois Gabart’s achievement in November and December 2017. The 34-year-old Frenchman completed a solo circumnavigation on the giant 30-metre trimaran Macif in just 42 days. His average speed was 27.2 knots – faster than many motor yachts – while peak speeds exceeded 47 knots.
Before leaving his home port of Port la Foret on the Atlantic coast of France Gabart said: “Thomas (Coville) sailed with some magic – he set a record almost impossible to beat. I’ll try to get close to what he did and I’ll do anything to do better.” Five days later, Gabart was more than three and a half hours behind Coville’s time at the equator, but with the promise of more favourable conditions in the South Atlantic.
In that section, he broke a record for the fastest 24-hour run by a single-handed sailor, covering 851 miles at a mind-blowing average speed of 35.4 knots. This performance helped propel him to an advantage of more than two days on Coville by the time he passed South Africa on the outward leg of the voyage. His finish time of 42 days 16 hours 40 minutes and 35 seconds would have been faster – it might even have rivalled that of Joyon’s crew – had a high pressure system in the Bay of Biscay not slowed his progress in the final few days.
“I would never have dreamed of [completing the voyage in] this time. On paper, with the weather, with what I was able to do with this boat, it was clearly possible to break the record, but even in the best scenarios only by one or two days. This is amazing…” said Gabart after crossing the finish line between the Lizard peninsula in Cornwall, UK and the north-western French island of Ouessant.