Setting the Stage for his Greatest Feat
Published on September 14th, 2017
French sailor François Gabart had been steadily climbing the ladder, accumulating success after success, but it was his victory in the 2012-13 Vendée Globe, setting a new race record of 78 days 2 hours 16 minutes, that put him squarely on the world stage.
Gabart has not let up since, and is now preparing for his latest feat: to beat the single-handed round the world record on a multihull.
The time to beat is currently held by Thomas Coville since December 2016 of 49 days, 3 hours, 7 minutes and 38 seconds. Only three sailors to date (Francis Joyon, Ellen MacArthur, Thomas Coville) have ever held the record. Gabart intends to be the fourth when he goes on standby October 22.
The record attempt has been a longtime coming, gradually becoming concrete with the design and then the build of the 30-meter MACIF trimaran, followed by its launch in August 2015. The past two years have been used to learn the boat, which thus far has seen important wins in the Transat Jacques-Vabre 2015, the Transat Bakerly 2016, and The Bridge last July.
“When I was 7, competing in my first Optimist regatta, I had to sail around a marker at 400 metres,” recalled Gabart. “This was a challenge that matched my abilities at the time, and now at the age of 34, my challenge is to sail round the world single-handed on a multihull. I think of this as having the same value and representing the same challenge.
“To succeed, I shall have to attempt something I have never succeeded in doing up until now. I shall have to push myself to the limit in terms of performance and probably discomfort, without ever compromising on my safety. This is the whole challenge of this round the world and it’s exciting. I’m dying to weigh anchor. I dream of long tacks alone on this boat, pulling out all the stops. Together with my team we have done everything possible to be able to pull off this challenge. It time to go!”
After a period of training single-handed in March and April, the gap of two months sailing with crew between May and July, which ended with the wonderful win of The Bridge, was a valuable learning experience for François Gabart. “The record will require that I sail as fast single-handed as with a crew. Thanks to the experience of The Bridge, I now know how to go about this.”
Since the end of August, the skipper has continued to train physically and to sail on his M24, the MACIF team’s small test trimaran, has started the final stages of his preparation with a view to the round the world, mixing training at sea and technical preparation.
“The goal is to sail as much as possible single-handed in heavy air, so that I can get used to high speeds. The preparation on shore will be devoted to knowing the boat inside out from a technical point of view: I must run through all the items that could possibly break to be able to repair them alone at sea. I need to be as self-sufficient as possible on the boat.”
Back from New York mid-July, the MACIF trimaran stayed at sea, in its home port of Port-la-Forêt, where it endured a comprehensive overhaul: dismantling, checking and reassembling of lots of parts, but also a few reinforcements here and there, in anticipation of any wear. Two years after it was first launched, Gabart believes he has a safe, reliable, high-performance boat with which to take on this round the world challenge.
“I now make good use of the boat’s potential: I understand and her well and have good sensations on board. I feel that I am ready to set off on a round the world. She has the ability to sail fast for a long time in lots of different weather conditions. She’s safe, sound and versatile. Even when I push her to the limits, I feel quietly confident.”
The official standby period for the single-handed round the world record attempt will start on October 22. This decision has been carefully thought through by Gabart and the weather team, managed by Jean-Yves Bernot, with whom the skipper has been working closely for some years.
“The aim is to find the best compromise between having the best possible chance of beating this record, the need to leave sufficiently late to avoid severe and dangerous low-pressure systems in the South during the spring, but also not to leave the start till too late.”
The standby period will last roughly three months, during which Gabart hopes to find the right weather window to cast off. Who will give the go ahead? “This will be a joint decision between Jean-Yves and myself. He will make a proposal and I will approve it.”
Source: Service presse trimaran MACIF contributed to this report.