Tea Route: Critical days ahead

Published on February 14th, 2020

(February 14, 2020; Day 28) – The huge Atlantic Ocean is offering a series of weather difficulties to the 31.5m IDEC SPORT maxi trimaran, with the Northern Hemisphere proving unhelpful in skipper Francis Joyon’s effort to set a new Tea Route record from Hong Kong to London.

The high-speed sailing at almost 40 knots they experienced in the Indian Ocean is not something they have found in the Atlantic, but IDEC SPORT has nevertheless kept up a decent average speed of 19.7 knots since the Cape of Good Hope, enabling her to achieve a lead of over 300 miles over the record holder, the Italian crew on the trimaran, Maserati.

But with 2000nm remaining to the finish, much uncertainty lies ahead as air masses battle it out violently and the sailing conditions are varying rapidly for the crew while trade winds are just about over for Joyon and his men. However sailing close to the NE’ly wind on calm seas has meant that they have had favourable conditions to look after the boat heading due north towards the Azores.

“After sailing almost 13,000 miles out on the water, we are still scared when we see the boat slamming,” explained Joyon. “When the swell eased off and the sea became smoother, we were able to follow a route due north, which meant we gained a lot of miles.”

While this is a better route than initially imagined, as it appeared their course would go a long way west of the Portuguese islands, the the trade winds will be dying away this evening and tomorrow. This will leave the team to be back suffering light airs in the middle of the high, where there is no other option but to cross it.

To the north of the islands, there are strong downwind conditions, and how easily they pick up these winds will determine their success in this attempt at the historic route taken by the big sailing clippers of the past between China and Europe. This is clearly a complicated sea route, which has been full of surprises.

“We will be sailing close to the Azores,” added Joyon. “We are a bit worried about the wind shadow from the volcanic peaks, so we will remain some way off. It feels like home since we crossed the Equator. The weather patterns are familiar to us.

“It is true that the winter lows are deep, but sailing downwind, the boat copes well with the strong winds and heavy seas. Once past the Azores, we are expecting a strong SW’ly air stream in excess of thirty knots with 6m high waves. We know that the boat deals well with those conditions.”

But before that, 36 difficult hours lie ahead for Joyon’s team as they pass through an area of high pressure.

“The charts indicate merely three or four knots of wind during the night,” admits Joyon. “If the sea remains calm, the sails will be flapping less and we should be able to make some slow headway now and then. Our latest forecasts suggest we should be entering the Thames on February 19. We have just finished our final bag of food. There is just the freeze-dried stuff left. It’s not what we like most and it appears to be encouraging the crew to push hard to get back home quickly… (laughs)”

Until the conditions improve, the team’s lead of more than 300 miles is set to drop today as Giovanni Soldini and his men experienced some good conditions favouring high speeds close to the coast of Senegal at this point. Looking forward, this final stage will be tense as the IDEC Sport seeks quick access to the high speed race track supplied by the low pressure systems moving rapidly towards the Channel approaches, 1700 miles to their NE this morning.

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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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