News came in last night that French maxi-trimaran, “Groupama 3”, bettered by over two days the previous ’round the world non-stop sailing record held by Bruno Peyron on “Orange II” since 2005. These speed records are attempted and sometimes achieved in response to the Jules Verne Trophy.
Whether or not Jules Verne, the well-know science-fiction writer of the late 1800s, could have ever envisaged a sailboat racing around the world in almost half the 80 day period he set himself based on the means of transportation available in his lifetime is open to wild guessing. Sure, sailing clippers in those days were fast, but not fast enough to foretell the performance of “Groupama 3”.
“Groupama 3″ beat “Orange II” by racing non-stop around the world, using the course usually followed by other ’round the world sailing races. The Jules Verne Trophy is different from other ’round the world sailing races in that competitors can start the race at a moment of their own choosing, the main condition being that they sail non-stop, leaving a set departure point and returning to the same point in the shortest amount of time.
Launched in 2006, “Groupama 3” was and still is a formidable maxi-trimaran of the latest vintage manned a well trained and capable crew of 10. Before winning yesterday the Jules Verne Trophy, “Groupama 3” had already broken a number of official and unofficial records, such as the greatest distance covered in 24 hours in the the North Atlantic, not to mention the least number of days to sail across the North Atlantic and to cross the Mediteranean on separate occasions.
As a state-of-the-art maxi-trimaran, “Groupama 3” nevertheless suffered a number of setbacks in previous attempts to take on the Jules Verne challenge. She first flipped over at high speed and had to be rescued. Then, in a recent attempt to beat Bruno Peyron’s 2005 time record, she sustained severe structural damage in the South Atlantic. Each time, she was properly repaired and new sea trials took place in harsh conditions. Both the crew gained more experience and the maxi-trimaran was modified and tweaked to withstand the rigours of high-speed sailing in difficult seas.
In spite of these setbacks, it was becoming obvious in the last couple of years that “Groupama 3” did have enormous potential, something that kept sponsors, crew members and on-shore sailboat designers, boat builders and equipment experts focused on turning the maxi-trimaran into a major success story. As a side-comment, the whole team’s efforts allowed “Groupama 3” to keep on sailing non-stop for 48 days, 7 hours and a bit, at an average speed of 19 kts (18.76 kts, to be precise). Who would now ever claim sailboats are too slow?
Even after it was established in the Vendée-Globe 2008-2009 round the world non-stop race, that the all-time solo Open 60 winner “Foncia” skippered by Michel Desjoyeaux (a.k.a. ‘Mich’), sailed the globe at an average speed of 12.3 kts, media reporters were prompt to publish this new record-breaking average speed achievement for a racing mono-hull. So far, it seems as if multi-hulls are faster; however, one should keep in mind that, with a crew of ten, Groupama 3 probably carried as much sail as it could in the circumstances simply by having several crew members on watch at all times.
Accordingly, it remains to be seen whether multi-hulls are necessarily faster than mono-hulls. In fact, over such a long sailing course, the time to complete the course and the average speed maintained from start to finish, are more meaningful than top speeds or peak speeds. This leads me to wonder what makes a racing sailboat a speed-demon on a long course: the sailboat design and category, or the number of crew members aboard tasked to ensure that optimum speed is always maintained 24/7.
All this to say that when a sailboat is branded by the media as being the fastest sailboat in the world, one should keep things in perspective: “Groupama 3” is not the fastest sailing boat in the world, but she is the only sailboat to have circumnavigated the globe in less than 50 days non-stop. That’s the important news.
Back to the latest sailing achievement by “Groupama 3”, simply imagine the skills required to race across the Indian Ocean and the Southern Pacific in the dark, at top speeds of 30 knots (or more) at times… As a matter of fact, the crew must posses advanced sailing skills to decide when circumstances warrant slowing down this speed-demon thereby avoiding pitch-polling or sustaining structural damage by slamming into invisible waves, something that in broad daylight normally requires a quick change in direction to minimize impact forces and what not. How they made such instant decisions in the dark is beyond me.
So, there she is back in Brest (France) having achieved the best time to complete the ’round the world course. Race officials still have to double check all the necessary data to ensure the legitimacy of Groupama 3’s performance and then prepare for the trophy-granting ceremony.
Rumour has it that, soon after the trophy ceremony, Groupama 3 will take on a number of other challenges because, all things considered, a trimaran and a crew with such promising qualities will not be docked very long.
Keep your eyes on her, for she has a whole lot more record-breaking successes in store.
PS: for more details, check out the www.YachtPals.com sailing site.