If all goes well, François Gabart will complete his single-handed round the world at the end of the week, after less than 45 days at sea. During the radio session with Macif’s employees this Tuesday, the MACIF trimaran skipper was being tossed about in a very rough sea, yet he remained focussed on sailing his boat well and could not conceal his happiness at the mention of the approaching finish.
Since he crossed the equator and entered the North Atlantic on Sunday after 36 days at sea, Gabart has enjoyed high speeds, so much so that he crossed the doldrums without even slowing down, before bypassing the Azores high-pressure area by the west, a large area of flat calm, whose centre is positioned roughly over the Azores archipelago.
Since Monday afternoon, he has encountered very difficult sailing conditions, a strong trade wind and a cross sea, meaning that the MACIF trimaran has been severely tossed about. “It’s quite difficult, as the sea is still rough. It’s been shaking me about since yesterday evening. It should calm down this morning, but there’s still 30 knots. Normally, the sea will no longer be coming at me from the right, which will mean I will be better aligned and things should be a little easier”, said François Gabart on Tuesday, during what will probably be the last weekly radio session with Macif’s employees.
In this weather, he is very careful about his trimaran, as he is very aware of the need to preserve it during the last week at sea. “You need to find the right balance between making sufficiently fast progress and not necessarily sailing at 40 knots, because that bashes her about. That’s part of what’s so difficult, but that’s my job. You learn to know how your boat feels. For the moment, everything is going well, but you never know when you cross the boundary between getting it right and getting it wrong. I hope to leave this area as soon as possible, and then I should be able to surf my way to the finish.”
This is the number of days’ lead, within a few hours, that François Gabart has clocked up in relation to the single-handed round the world record holder, Thomas Coville’s passage time a year ago. How does he explain this difference, even though, at the start, he only envisaged a minor margin in relation to Thomas Colville’s 49 days, 3 hours, 4 minutes and 28 seconds?
Questioned by one of Macif’s employees, he answered: “I said before the start that it would be hard and to beat the record I would need three things in my favour: good weather, a good boat, and good sailing. Well the weather window was clearly wonderful. Even though it is looking harder at the end, and I am not going to go fast on the last three days, out of the 41 days so far, apart from the low-pressure area in the Indian Ocean, I have been pretty lucky.
“Then there’s the boat: she’s very fast and she’s also capable of maintaining speed over a long periods. I am very proud of all the work the team did beforehand. Lastly there’s good sailing: for the moment, I’m not going to brag, but I think that I’ve done a good job. Now, I hope that things will remain like this until the finish”.
Although he’s not bragging many people are already complimenting him on his performance.
Phrase: “It’s also good to look at the positive side of things…”
Now that MACIF is approaching the finishing line, when he talked about how he felt on Tuesday, François Gabart was quickly overwhelmed, a sign of his true commitment to this round the world in the last 38 days. “It’s quite strange. You need to be really careful to stay focussed on what’s happening in the present and not get carried away, but at the same time, last night, the conditions were so awful that it’s also good to look at the positive side of things…”
One thing is definitely true: he will have gain maturity once again with this challenge. “These round the worlds are a hard look at yourself. You learn so much about yourself. You discover new limits, and the ability to push yourself that little bit harder. I think that’s wonderful, but quite painful too. But it’s worth the experience.”
Programme: sailing round the high pressure and flat calm
Sailing at 30 knots in an east-northeast trade wind, MACIF continues to sail round the high pressure in the Azores. This Thursday, he should pass north of it, gybe and then set a course for Brittany.
The next step of the programme looks difficult, however, with a very big area of flat calm crossing his path. “I don’t really have much choice. I’m going to have to be patient. It’s all part of the game, but it’s a little frustrating as I want to sail fast right to the finish. Admittedly, this is not the goal, but I would have liked to have finished with a time close to that of Francis Joyon with his crew (40 days, 23 hours, and 30 minutes last January during the Jules Verne Trophy, Ed.)
“That’s not going to happen with the weather this way, but at the same time, when I see the big low pressure area you had these last few days, it’s probably best to finish in calmer weather and make sure I get there. The routings suggest that the finish time is virtually the same whether the boat sails fast or slow.”
In other words Sunday afternoon, which will be just over 43 days!
LEAD OVER THOMAS COVILLE’S RECORD(Sodebo Ultim): 2,499,80 MILES