Tea Route: Go West, young man

Published on February 5th, 2020

(February 5, 2020; Day 19) – With the goal of setting a new Tea Route record for the 13,000 mile course from Hong Kong to London, Francis Joyon and his crew of four on the 31.5m IDEC SPORT maxi trimaran have come to a decision on how best to overcome the hurdle of the South Atlantic’s St. Helena high and the dead air of the doldrums.

Between an option on the short northerly route close to the coast of Africa, which would be slow, or a very long detour extending his route to the west, he has decided for the later to get around the Doldrums that have stretched right out. IDEC SPORT is therefore taking advantage of a gentle trade wind via the northern face of the St. Helena high to enjoy some smooth sailing downwind, even if that means lots of gybes at a course 90° to the direct route.

With their lead over Giovanni Soldini’s record has going up and down between a day and a day and a half, the team still hopes to finish in London after 31 days of sailing, which would eclipse the current time by five days.

“The sea is calm and the swell going in the same direction as the wind,” explained Joyon. “We are sailing smoothly without putting any pressure on the boat. What a huge difference after the chaotic Indian Ocean. The trade wind is not very strong, but it is allowing us to make decent headway.

“Over the past 48 hours, the main thing has been to stay in the corridor of wind on the edge of the centre of the St. Helena high. We are calculating the precise moment when we need to gybe to ensure we keep the best wind angle possible. Life has been a bit repetitive since the Cape of Good Hope, but we are remaining focused and that means we have been able to sail faster than shown on our route planner.”

This race strategy involving rounding via the west the Inter-tropical Convergence Zone, which early this week stretched right out, has led the maxi-trimaran towards a curious feature in the South Atlantic, the island of St. Helena, a place that Britain and France have known all about since the famous Emperor originally from Corsica stayed there after 1815 and until the end of his life six years later.

For Joyon and his men who are all very interested in history, it also means the possibility of catching sight of some land and greenery this evening before dusk, as they will be approaching quite close to the volcanic island with its 800m high peak. Napoleon is said to have hated the absence of sunshine on the island. This feeling is shared by the crew of IDEC SPORT, who fully understand what he meant.

“It is hot and sailing at more than 25 knots is pleasant,” declared Joyon. “But we haven’t seen any sunshine since the Indian Ocean. There is a lot of low cloud and it is very dull.”

This detail about the weather is not unimportant. IDEC SPORT deliberately set off with very little diesel for the engine, which is used to power the instruments aboard the boat, and now there is very little left.

“We are just using our wind turbines and our solar panels to generate energy. The absence of sunshine may in the long run be a handicap. So today, we are setting up our second wind turbine,” shared Joyon.

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After starting from Hong Kong on January 18, to beat the Tea Route record of 36:02:37:00 set in 2018 by the Italian Giovanni Soldini and the crew of the MOD70 Maserati trimaran, Joyon’s team of Christophe Houdet, Antoine Blouet, Bertrand Delesne, and Corentin Joyon must finish in London before 1036hrs UTC on February 23.

IDEC SPORT Specifications
Architects: VPLP team (Van Péteghem-Lauriot Prévost)
Previous names: Groupama 3, Banque Populaire VII
Length: 31.50 m
Beam: 22.50 m
Displacement: 18,000 kg
Draught: 5.70 m
Mast height: 33.50 m
Structure: carbon-Nomex
Upwind sail surface: 411 m2
Downwind sail surface: 678 m2
Initial launch date: June 2006

Act 1: Port Louis, Lorient – Port Louis, Mauritius (8800 nm) – 19:18:14:45
Act 2: Mauritius – Ho Chi Minh (3975 nm) – 12:20:37:56
Act 3: Ho Chi Minh – Hong Kong (870 nm) – 02:20:28:51
Act 4: Clipper Route between Hong Kong and London (13,000 nm)

Source: IDEC press

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