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Finding the weather window to go fast

Published on December 1st, 2021

If the goal is record setting, identifying a weather system that will provide ideal conditions to the extent of confidence is as important as a fast boat and elite crew. That’s the situation for the 11-person team on the 37-metre maxi-trimaran Sails of Change (ex-Spindrift 2) that seek to beat the crewed, unassisted, round the world under sail record set in 2017 of 40 days, 23 hours, 30 minutes, and 30 seconds.

Known as the Jules Verne Trophy, onshore router Jean-Yves Bernot for Dona Bertarelli and Yann Guichard’s team discusses these meteorological uncertainties:

Why have there been a succession of postponed starts for the Jules Verne Trophy record campaign?
Sails of Change had favorable conditions to make rapid headway as far as Cape Frio (offshore of Rio de Janeiro). In theory, the timing was right, very favorable in fact, for the maxi-trimaran to cross the equator, but after that, there was so much instability around the Saint Helena High, that the passage time off the Cape of Good Hope was not good …

But there were two scheduled starts in November!
In both instances, there were no low-pressure systems forming off Brazil to propel the boat very quickly towards South Africa. These are minor issues, but there was just a six-hour window for Sails of Change to hook onto a favorable system. Six hours of uncertainty in an eight-day forecast may sound small, but it matters a lot! These two ‘code greens’ are also linked to the volatility of these long-term weather forecasts.

A decision has to be made…
There’s a ‘code green’ when there’s an opportunity to set sail and the whole Spindrift team has to be poised to go! It’s important to point out that weather data is updated every twelve hours and it is provided by both American and European models.

If the models aren’t showing the same situation over several days, you have to at least wait until they agree on a similar configuration. That’s all part of a record attempt like this: it’s vital not to miss an opportunity and to remain ready to go!

So what was the situation on November 30, 2021?
It’s still not entirely done and dusted. There are conditions for a rapid descent to Brazil, but it’s what comes next. There may be a small low-pressure system forming and, with luck on our side, we can hook onto it, but after that…?

It’s worth noting that the weather models must be in agreement, and, in any case, the whole team has to be prepared to snap up an opportunity. The American forecasts were more optimistic than those of the Europeans, then the configuration deteriorated further for both models.

But weather simulations have evolved in leaps and bounds over recent years…
Absolutely! We no longer route the boats in the same way either. During the initial attempts from 1990-2000, the objective was the passage of the equator, as it wasn’t possible to predict the weather beyond five days.

Now, the boats are even faster and reliable data runs for up to ten days and more! We now have to target the Cape of Good Hope in a maximum of twelve days: it’s a whole different ball game. We can clearly see what’s going to happen in the South Atlantic eight days in advance.

Is there a relationship between the position of the Azores High (northern hemisphere) and that of the Saint Helena High (southern hemisphere)?
I get what you’re saying: a favorable weather situation in the northern hemisphere and hence an unfavorable one in the southern hemisphere! No. There is no correlation between these two parts of the Earth, at least not in terms of the time-frame we’re working with. There may be if you were to average it out over a year, but I don’t have that information.

So regardless of whether the Azores High is high or low in latitude, it doesn’t have an influence on the situation in the South Atlantic?
I don’t believe it does: there is no correlation between the north and south; not in terms of the time frame we work with for routing the Jules Verne Trophy. No compensation would come into play over such a short time.

Sails of Change is back on standby in La Trinité-sur-Mer through until January 15.
It may sound late, but when you look at the previous records, you notice that Groupama 3 set sail on January 31! Equally IDEC Sport set off in the middle of the winter in the northern hemisphere. It’s only early December for us here, the team still has time.

But there’s a good conjunction with the full moon on December 19 and the summer solstice of the southern hemisphere on December 21…
That’s true, but it’s not enough to cross the equator in under five days; you have to be able to connect onto something beyond that! The current Jules Verne Trophy record is so low (40 days 23 hours and 30 minutes) that you need to be at Good Hope with a lead of at least a day.

Francis Joyon and his men crossed the Indian Ocean really very quickly: as a result, you need some room for maneuver on exiting the Atlantic Ocean. On top of that, they took less than six days to sail from the equator back to Ushant! As such, you need to steal a march at the start of the record attempt…

Logically, there are around ten weather ‘windows’ each winter?
You can’t look at it like that: it’s totally dependent on the year and there are no statistics about that! There are winters with lots of opportunities and others where you have to stay on land. Furthermore, the opportunities are not the same from one year to the next, plus it depends what you want to do and where you want to go.

Here for example, there was an opportunity to improve on the reference time between Ushant and the equator, but it didn’t extend to the round the world record. Sails of Change could probably beat its own WSSRC record to the equator (Spindrift 2 in 2019: 4 days 20 hours and 13 minutes) but Dona Bertarelli, Yann Guichard, and their team are chasing the Jules Verne Trophy!

Is the situation looking favorable for the coming days?
We’re going to have to wait a bit but that doesn’t stop us routers from looking at what would have happened had Sails of Change set sail though: the weather window on November 25 would have gone very light after Cape Frio (offshore of Rio de Janeiro).

The one on November 30 doesn’t look favorable either in the southern hemisphere, with very bad weather at the Cape of Good Hope, but we’ll look into the situation in more detail over the next few days. The idea of setting off and then coming back is only valid if the return journey is quick as there may be a favorable ‘window’ on returning to Ushant…


Ten sailors with complementary backgrounds, five of whom have already circumnavigated the globe, will set sail alongside skipper Yann Guichard on this fourth crewed attempt. Two of them, Thierry Chabagny and Xavier Revil, won the Jules Verne Trophy in 2012, whilst Dona Bertarelli has held the title of fastest woman to sail around the world since 2016.

In all, nine of the eleven sailors have previously been involved in a Jules Verne Trophy attempt. Only Julien Villion and Yann Jauvin will be making their Trophy debut in this legendary international offshore racing event.

2021 crew on the maxi-trimaran Sails of Change
Yann Guichard – skipper
Dona Bertarelli – on-board reporter
Benjamin Schwartz – navigator
Jacques Guichard – Watch leader
Xavier Revil – Watch leader
Jackson Bouttell – Watch leader, bowman
Duncan Späth – sailor
Thierry Chabagny – sailor
Gregory Gendron – sailor
Julien Villion – sailor
Yann Jauvin – sailor, bowman

Jean-Yves Bernot – onshore router

The Jules Verne Trophy is the crewed, unassisted, round the world record under sail. In less than 30 years, the reference time has been halved, from 79d 06h 16’ in 1993 to 40d 23h 30’ in 2017.

Spindrift has made three previous attempts at breaking the record, posting the third best time in history in 2016 and securing the record between Ushant and the equator in 2019. The team has been on standby since November 1.

To put into perspective how difficult it is to win the Jules Verne Trophy, it’s worth noting that out of thirty-three departures off Ushant, just nine of these round the world attempts under sail have been successful:
• Commodore-Explorer in 1993 (79d 06h 16’)
• Enza-New Zealand in 1994 (74d 22h 17′)
• Sport-Elec in 1997 (71d 14h 22′), Orange in 2002 (64d 08h 37′)
• Geronimo in 2004 (63d 13h 59′)
• Orange II in 2005 (50d 16h 20′)
• Groupama 3 in 2010 (48d 07h 45′)
• Banque Populaire V in 2012 (45d 13h 43′)
• Idec-Sport in 2017 (40d 23h 30′)

Intermediate Crewed Reference Times:
Ushant-equator: 4d 20h 07’ (Spindrift 2 in 2019)
Equator-Agulhas Cape: 6d 08h 55’ (Banque Populaire V in 2012)
Agulhas Cape-Cape Leeuwin: 4d 09h 32’ (IDEC Sport in 2017)
Cape Leeuwin-Cape Horn: 9d 08h 46’ (IDEC Sport in 2017)
Cape Horn-Equator: 7d 04h 27’ (Banque Populaire V in 2012)
Equator-Ushant: 5d 19h 21’ (IDEC Sport in 2017)

Crewed Records listed by World Sailing Speed Record Council:
North Atlantic crossing (Ushant-Equator): 4d 20h 07’ (Spindrift 2 in 2019)
Indian Ocean crossing (Agulhas Cape-South Tasmania): 5d 21h 07’ 45’’ (IDEC Sport in 2017)
Pacific Ocean crossing (South Tasmania-Cape Horn): 7d 21h 13’ 31’’ (IDEC Sport in 2017)
Equator-Equator: 29d 09h 10’ 55’’ (IDEC Sport in 2017)
Round the world (Jules Verne Trophy): 40d 23h 30’ 30’’ (IDEC Sport in 2017)

Source: Spindrift Racing

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