Gitana X qualifies for La Route du Rhum...
Midnight, the moon is high... In the rocky channel leading to the Bay of Quiberon (Atlantic), Gitana X slides through the night at 16 knots (30 km/h). A lively little firefly walks its beam of light on the deck. Lionel Lemonchois has his head lamp on, and is running from one side to the other of his boat and prepares to lower the sails. He has just finished his 1000 mile (1852 km) single-handed qualifying passage for La Route du Rhum.

After the tension of his first 4 day sail alone, it was expected that Lionel would be tired and a little drawn. But he was smiling, calm and relaxed, all the happier for this tête-à-tête with his racing machine. "I'm in the process of learning about Gitana and realise that I am able to sail her well and exploit her incredible potential. We're beginning to get to know each other, to communicate. We are still on rather formal terms though. Once I've spent a week on board, we'll be on more familiar terms" affirmed Lionel.

During this compulsory sail, the weather was pleasant, with a top wind speed of 27 knots (50 km/h) in the first 24 hours, to the western tip of Brittany. This was the fastest stretch of the passage for Lionel (at an average of 17 knots) and he sometimes had to let go of the bridle. "Flying along at between 22 and 27 knots (41 to 50 km/h), I was under automatic helm with the main sail up and the small gennaker (balloon jib). In a strong gust Gitana picked up speed and changed course dangerously. I had to let the sails go to regain control. After that hairy moment, I brought the sheets back into the cabin (sheets being the ropes used to manoeuvre the sails) so that I would be able to react quickly if need be".

A sound boat

Apart from that one incident, Lionel confirms Gitana's qualities: "She is a really easy boat to handle. The cockpit is great. Everything works well. I spent a fair bit of time at the helm in my bucket seats. I can feel her potential. My job is to make the most of that. There's no reason for her to sail any more slowly than the others. As for the mast, I avoid looking at it without any reason to. Of course it's impressive. You never forget that it can always come down. But I've got faith in it".
In any event, the few tacks to windward in the bay of La Trinité-sur-Mer gave the impression of an extremely agile boat. An impression which is confirmed by the fineness of her wake – sliding in its purest form.

Team spirit

Gitana's shore crew had been expecting her since the middle of the afternoon, to welcome her into the entrance of the Bay. But she kept her shore crew waiting, as the wind was not playing the game any more as she neared the coast. So, in the middle of the night, a RIB set out as a smaller boat was waiting in the entrance to the fairway. As soon as the trimaran had been spotted, four crew hopped on board, pleased to find their boat and her skipper once again. Naturally enough, Lionel left them to get on with the manœuvres, weighing his words as he talked about his sail. "I did not break one single length of line. We've done a nice job on her". Each member of his team set about inspecting the boat – sails, electronics, deck gear etc., to make sure that everything was all right. Then Gitana was lined up in the 'parking lot' alongside two fellow Route du Rhum competitors. Her navigation lights were switched off. Everyone went off to rest with their heads already working overtime thinking about how best to share out the work to be done on Gitana so that she is ship-shape and Bristol fashion for the start in Saint-Malo on 10th November. As for Lionel, he's already got his mind on his next solo outing: "I'm going to try and get another identical sail in before the start of the Rhum. If not, I'll do some false single-handed sailing, in the company of a small crew who will be there just to observe the manoeuvres and the boat's behaviour so that we can improve on our performance".

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