Its over. Today, IDEC Sport and Spindrift 2 are tied safely to their respective docks for the first time in 47 days. Two days shy of the record.
It was touch and go at Cape Horn, both boats close to each other and a bit ahead of the record pace. But off Brazil in the South Atlantic, Aeolus played hell with them. Light, capricious winds pinned them down as the phantom Bank Pop rolled on four years past taking 500 miles in a matter of hours. Then, once across the equator, Neptune slammed the door shut and sent them hurtling off to the Azores and Labrador – blazing fast, but with puny VMG. The ghost of Bank Pop slipped further and further away – four years and 1000 miles ahead.
The two campaigns had completely different personalities. IDEC Sport – the legendary single-hander Francis Joyon in command – was light and fast. No extras for Joyon. Single-hander style, only six hand-picked men sailed IDEC. Joyon had her rig shortened in preparation for the tempest in the South. His philosophy was to sail the boat as light as possible, with a reduced crew, figuring she would be fast enough in the heavy South to overcome any light air issues the rig would expose elsewhere. His crew had to be experienced and tough as nails to keep up with the old man. By contrast, Spindrift 2 was a full on, no holds barred assault on the record. Bankrolled by Dona Bertarelli, no expense was spared in either the boat or crew. 14 sailors departed Brest under command of the talented Yann Guichard in a boat much bigger and faster than either IDEC or Bank Pop. The record was theirs to lose as the weather window for departure looked perfect. Indeed, they set a record of 4 days and some hours from Ushant to the equator – an unbelievable pace.
There was some wavering as the boats negotiated the South Atlantic high headed toward Cape Town. Bank Pop’s smooth and flawless course around the high was much faster than the jittery jibing route forced on both IDEC and Spindrift. But once in the Indian Ocean both boats lit the afterburners. Joyon took IDEC far south towards the ice in a daring run to make up ground while Spindrift just flat out flew. First Spindrift and then 8 hours later IDEC set the record for crossing the Indian Ocean. Into the deep Southern Pacific they soared with the albatross.
South of New Zealand they had to decide to go deeper South or stay North to negotiate an anti-cyclone ahead. South would be shorter and faster, but much more dangerous, taking them to 62 or 63 South – deep into the ice bergs. The weather routers for each team conferred and agreed – it was too dangerous to send them so far down. Both agreed neither boat should be routed South of 54 degrees and so the die was cast. For awhile the boats sailed within sight of each other – amazing after 23 days at sea and on the far side of the world. As they came within view of Cape Horn, both boats were still within striking distance of the record. But the ghost of Bank Pop sailed serenely past, deep outside the Falklands and far off the South American coast, while IDEC and Spindrift were pushed inshore into lighter and lighter air. Their lead gone and Bank Pop stretching away, the only hope was for the weather to cooperate and allow them to cut the corner of the Azores high to sail fewer miles than the big Atlantic loop forced on Bank Pop. Alas, a huge North American depression crossed the Atlantic just before them and its back side Northers slammed the door shut. With 50 knot winds and 8 meter seas, Yann Guichard all but abandoned the effort, noting that Spindrift was sailing safe rather than fast. Joyon took off on a fantastic joyride to nowhere as IDEC ripped off 40 knot speeds, but only 10 knots VMG. There would be no need for Loick Peyron to mount a defense of his record after all.
Its hard to single out any one person for praise from such a group of tough and talented sailors. Dona Bertarelli deserves recognition not only for funding Spindrift, but pulling tough watches with the guys. She is now the fastest woman to circle the globe. But I think two of the men deserve special mention.
Francis Joyon is famed as a single handed sailor – a true old man of the sea. For this project he put together a great team of iron sailors to sail IDEC as hard as they could – together. In a remarkable effort, Joyon brought together six diverse and determined men, molded them into a cohesive unit and kept them working together all the way to the end. It was a spectacular effort by the famously introspective Joyon. Like Peyron, Francis showed true leadership. His courage, elan and skill inspire whether sailing alone or in charge of a crew of rowdy characters.
Yann Riou last circled the globe aboard DonFeng in the Volvo Ocean Race. He stepped off that boat and stepped on to Spindrift and kept taking amazing images. The views he shot from Spindrift are stunning. Day after day another set of gorgeous photographs were beamed off the boat. His drone video of Spindrift off Cape Horn and mid-Atlantic is an instant classic and foretells a new means of yarn spinning.
IDEC and Spindrift kept us riveted to our screens as we followed them on their grand adventure racing the ghost of Bank Pop around the world. It was human endeavor of the highest order. They did not bag the record this time around, but the stage is set for another go. Peyron’s record looks secure for now, but both of these campaigns will have learned where his record is vulnerable and will use that knowledge in a future attempt. The record will fall, but it will take a perfect campaign to do it.
The Jules Verne – iron sailors on carbon fiber ocean flyers reaching for the impossible. It doesnt get any better than that.