Francis Joyon left Mauritius on 21st November accompanied by Christophe Houdet, Bertrand Delesne, Antoine Blouet and his son, Corentin, to set a new reference time on a highly unusual route for modern ocean racers taking them from Mauritius to Ho Chi Minh City across the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea.
After 12 days, 20 hours, 37 minutes and 56 seconds during an adventure full of contrasts and surprises, IDEC SPORT moored up this morning in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saïgon), at the end of a route that in theory was around 4000 miles long, but in reality because of the weather systems, Francis and his men sailed 5400 miles from the Indian Ocean to the China Sea.
High speeds, periods of flat calm conditions, the long swell of the Southern Ocean, the nasty choppy seas in the enclosed China and Java Seas, a maritime desert and busy shipping routes, the freezing cold of the Antarctic and the unbearable heat of Indonesia… It was certainly a big adventure as expected by the five sailors, who were hypnotised by the marvels and unusual sights of the seascapes of the Far East.
Three shades of grey
Francis, Corentin, Christophe, Bertrand and Antoine have been through an epic adventure in three shades of grey. There was the light grey of the Southern Ocean, the misty grey of the Karimata Strait between Sumatra and Borneo and the leaden horizon of the China Sea stirred up by the powerful NE’ly air stream.
The dip into the Southern Ocean quickly ended with the return to hot and even boiling latitudes, particularly as they crossed the Equator, which they celebrated off the coast of Borneo as is fitting, in particular for Antoine Blouet, for whom this was a first.
Full speed in the south of the Indian Ocean
The blue skies and emerald green seas of Mauritius soon gave way to the eerie light of the Southern Ocean. Aiming for the Sunda Strait, the way into the China Sea, Francis and his crew assisted by the onshore weather expert, Christian Dumard, deliberately chose to dive down a long way to 37 degrees South.
The key idea in this 27,000-mile long Asian Tour was to look after the boat and equipment, as they sailed far from any accessible pit stop. They therefore attempted to favour downwind sailing as much as possible, preferring speed over the shortest route. The 3000 miles separating Mauritius from the south of Sumatra turned into 4200 miles of sailing with the wind on the beam in the NE’ly trade winds in the Indian Ocean.
Averaging almost 23 knots out on the water, they achieved several remarkable days of almost 750 miles in 24 hours without seeing the boat suffer and enjoying the experience of the Southern Ocean. Francis Joyon reached Indonesia on the eighth day of racing.
The mysteries of the Orient
That was when the most mysterious part of this epic voyage in Asia began. Francis the record-breaker became Francis the explorer, discovering seas rarely visited by modern ocean racing boats. The powerful head currents along the coast of Sumatra, associated with the total absence of wind caused the maxi trimaran to plunge into an abyss of extremely slow speeds.
“We fought hard for three days to avoid drifting backwards,” explained Francis.
With a mixture of curiosity, fascination and the permanent need to watch out for unexpected squalls, fishing boats, islands and fishing huts on stilts in the middle of the sea, the crew of IDEC SPORT had to use all their physical resources to make any headway and get away from this wind hole.
“The oppressive heat really surprised us as it suddenly arrived without any warning,” said Bertrand Delesne, the boat captain of IDEC SPORT. “It was impossible to sleep, as inside the boat it was like an oven. We tried in turns to grab a few minutes rest lying on the nets.”
Sailing upwind and carrying out manoeuvre after manoeuvre and changing sails with each change in the light airs around the islands of Bangka and Belitung, the men on IDEC SPORT were astounded by the experience and managed to get away from the Karimata Strait sailing close to the coast of Borneo. The result was they only covered 550 miles in three days. Next to nothing in comparison to what the boat is capable of.
A merciless China Sea
It was as they approached the Natuna Islands to the NW of Borneo, that the Indonesia mist was replaced by more familiar skies for Joyon and his men, with squally showers and wind. Once again, this all happened very suddenly with the wind getting up to almost thirty knots. More than ever, the watchword aboard the boat was vigilance with the need to look after the equipment.
“IDEC SPORT was launched in 2006,” stressed Bertrand Delesne, “and we hate to see her suffer.”
It was a bumpy road ahead for the magnificent trimaran over the final 500 miles in the China Sea.
“Waves in excess of 12 feet heading straight for us made the boat leap up and down in every direction,” added Francis. “It was impossible to sleep inside. We bounced up nine inches or so as we lay in our bunks.”
Wisely, Francis swung the boat around to tackle the waves and wind on the beam in order to look after his faithful boat. There remained the final stretch in the Indonesian Peninsula. Once again, the tired crew faced light airs and were forced to deal with all the surprises in these busy waters where there is very little order.
Francis wisely decided to wait until they sun started to rise before pointing the bows of his giant trimaran in between the junks and sampans towards Vung Tau, the large trading port to the south of Ho Chi Minh City.