Tea Route: Seeing the light in the tunnel

Published on February 17th, 2020

(February 17, 2020; Day 31) – The 31.5m IDEC SPORT maxi trimaran has less than 900 miles from the finish, and is on target to establish a new Tea Route record for the course from Hong Kong to London. Francis Joyon and his crew of Christophe Houdet, Bertrand Delesne, Antoine Blouet, and Corentin Joyon have been managing to keep up high speeds since sailing to the south of the Azores, achieving an average of 27 knots on the direct route towards the Channel Approaches.

Since falling behind the record pace a week ago, the lead has been growing steadily and now exceeds 700 miles, though these figures do not reveal just how tough the conditions currently are. Joyon reports they are in survival mode with violent squalls and waves in excess of 6 metres due to the series of storms that recently swept across Northern Europe.

There will be a final gybe to carry out in the Celtic Sea, before the big, red, and white trimaran tackles the final stretch of her long journey. The sail up the English Channel will be very tense because of the incredible amount of shipping, so there will be no time for the crew to ease off before they pass under the QE II Bridge, which officially marks the end of this historic route.

Far from crying victory, Francis Joyon has asked his crew of four to be particularly cautious and concentrate on the task in hand. The strong NW’ly winds are exceedingly unsteady in strength and direction, and the periods spent at the helm are close to that of a high-wire act.

“The squalls are very violent and come without warning,” Joyon explains. “The wind suddenly strengthens so quickly that sometimes we find ourselves with a bit too much sail up. You then really have to hold on tight to the helm and wait for the squall to pass over while getting soaked in the heavy rain. In these conditions, and because of the sea state, we are between 20 and 30 percent below the full potential of the boat.”

As they reach the Rochebonne Shelf with the sudden falls in depth, the sea conditions are not going to improve and this 31st day of racing looks like one of the most difficult for the crew. “The only way to move around the deck is by crawling,” added Joyon. “We really need to be careful to avoid injuring ourselves when moving around. It’s a bit like being in survival mode at times.”

In spite of the tense atmosphere, Joyon and his men are in a hurry to finish. “These skies remind us of Brittany,” he said. “Behind the line of squalls, the skies clear with some brilliant light and sharp contrasts. That reminds us that our job is almost over.

“We will be keeping offshore to find a waypoint in the Celtic Sea, where we will carry out one final gybe before entering the English Channel. The wind will then be more or less due west and we will have to weave our way up the Channel between the coasts of Britain and France to aim for the Straits of Dover.

“We hope to finish early on Wednesday morning (Feb. 19) after just over 31 days of sailing. That time pleases us given the incredible number of weather systems we have had to deal with. The Tea Route is really amazing because of all the contrasting weather conditions.”

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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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