Twelve days for Gitana 12
Thierry Duprey du Vorsent completed his first solo transat just a few hours short of the previous record time set by Laurent Bourgnon in 1998. However, it was far from plain sailing for the Gitana 12 skipper, who suffered two strokes of bad luck which significantly reduced the trimaran's performance. Thierry looks back at his first solo experience.
The starting shot at Saint-Malo

“The start was a very powerful moment for me as, for the first time, I found myself all alone in choosing my line, positioning myself, adjusting the sails, and keeping an eye on the other competitors: I was actually setting off on a solo crossing of the Atlantic!”

The first night

“The exit from the Channel was quite hard work in the highly variable wind, but I was fairly comfortable as it was still manageable for me and was helping me to gradually attune myself to the race. It was a reasonably nice way to warm up and what's more, I was able to keep up with the rest of the fleet.”

In the front

“With Sylvain Mondon from Météo France and my router Mayeul Riffet, we already had, like Lionel, an idea of what was going to happen weather-wise on the first few days of the race. In fact, the front had already pretty much broken up and I quickly made my first change of tack to head towards the Azores.”

Pacing problems

“The gap started to form between the leaders and Gitana 12 because I took too long to adapt and I was manoeuvring too much so as not to be outflanked. In the end, I was well off the pace set by Lionel and my deficit already stood at 200 miles. I realised that I needed to tackle the race in another way, or I wouldn't be able to keep up the rhythm of being permanently on the bridge adapting the sails, instead of managing my course.”

A burst of speed

“The wind came back at over 25 knots easterly and the average speeds rose significantly. But I still had to negotiate a small windless zone before the Azores and I found the going quite tough, which slowed me down and increased the gap still further. In fact, the weather conditions between the head and tail of the fleet were already starting to become a bit different…” 

On the wrong level

“On the fourth day of the race, I reached the Azores but having gybed too early before the archipelago, I found myself on a trajectory that was too low to shave Sao Miguel island without a great deal of difficulty. As a result, I lost quite a few miles more while Lionel was snoozing! Exiting from the Azores was quite painstaking amid a wind which was dying down, while the leaders were picking up fresh wind again to escape from this area of low pressure.”


“I no longer had the same conditions but was sailing with Claude Thélier and Antoine Koch nearby: so it was competitive and there were still over 2,000 miles to cover… The wind had returned, but with very short seas that were sending my bow very deep: luckily, I was at the helm! Then, the day after the gybing beneath the Azores, a whale poked his head out just beneath Gitana 12's bow. The sea was flat, I was advancing with mainsail and gennaker up at 8-9 knots and bang! The bobstay exploded and I wasn't able to hoist a forward sail any longer. I called the architects, who told me I could install the solent jib but not to pull it too much…”

Low morale

“I was feeling a bit down in the dumps because I was starting to realise that it would be difficult to keep battling with Claude and Antoine, even though the latter was also handicapped by technical problems with his mainsail traveller… But I didn't give up! The leaders had well and truly left us behind and there was no chance of a reversal of the weather situation: there was an easterly wave on our path and the end of the course was already promising to be a lot slower. So it was necessary to go down beneath the ridge with very little breeze. The wind was turning around constantly and that wears you out.”

Still in it

“Now it was starting to feel like a race again! I knew that it wasn't going to be easy to finish but I'd regained ground on Claude, and Franck-Yves Escoffier was in the same waters: all my motivation came flooding back! I knew that if we all arrived together for the rounding of Guadeloupe, we could have some fun over the last few miles… So I managed to keep up hope and maintain my morale, despite increasingly bad and unstable weather.”

That's torn it!

“Long cloudy stretches, violent squalls followed by calms, then choppy seas… Not too pleasant a day, except that I found out Lionel had just won the Route du Rhum. Fantastic! But a few hours later, my mainsail exploded above the third reef… I was sick as a parrot, but it didn't last, as I quickly dreamed up a repair by binding two battens together. After a night's work, I could hoist the sail again. I knew I needed to put all my energy into finishing as fast as possible, as Guadeloupe was in any case the nearest dry land now.”

A long long road

“With a 1000 miles still to go… I was protecting my sail but keeping up a good pace to finish as fast as possible to spare Gitana 12 any more suffering. The weather was not all that favourable, what with more unstable breezes and patchy trade winds, but the islands were at last appearing on the horizon!"

Going round the bend

“Just as I was preparing to round Guadeloupe, my mainsail exploded again, with no chance of repairing it before the finish! So I finished the course with just jib and the wind dropping more and more as I approached the finish line. It was very, very hard, and it felt like I'd never get there! Luckily, there were other boats round about (those of Roland Jourdain and Jean Le Cam), which added a bit of spice to the proceedings…”

On dry land at last

“I was really satisfied to finish! After all, it was my first solo transat on a trimaran… I overcame all the technical problems and looked after the boat as much as possible.”

Lessons learnt

“I've discovered that I feel good all alone at sea, with the motivation of the race. I never let my head drop, even at the very toughest moments. I gave it 100% and psychologically, I'm now better equipped to get a result. I know that I can push the boat harder. I've acquired belief in myself, experienced some very powerful moments personally, and had moments of great joy, at having taken a new step, at having pushed the trimaran  to her maximum at times… I've also learned to manage my physical condition more effectively, to sleep more calmly, and to adapt to the constraints of fatigue. All in all, it's been a unique and enriching experience!”

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