The maxi-catamaran fitted out by Baron Benjamin de Rothschild is now sailing in the southern-hemisphere trade winds. It is preparing to cross the equator for the second time during this attempt on the record from New York to San Francisco. As of this morning, Gitana 13 still had 4,300 miles to go (out of the total distance of 14,000 miles) to reach its destination on the US west coast.
The weather isn't known for being particularly stable...at least, that's been the experience of Lionel Lemonchois and his crew over the past week: the Cape-Horn “furies” and low-pressure systems from the Pacific Ocean sweeping across the tip of South America gave way to trade winds that have struggled to maintain their strength. In response to the weak southeasterly winds, Gitana 13's crew has performed a series of jibes over the past 48 hours in order to remain in the path of stronger winds. This strategy has paid off, but it has also increased the overall distance that the maxi-catamaran must sail to get to San Francisco: “Yesterday, the breeze was stronger than the weather files indicated, and this put us a little bit ahead on our route plan. But the wind was behind us, so we had to jibe with the gennaker flying. We've been moving along at a good clip, and have achieved a good average speed above 20 knots. Still, these jibes are lengthening our route, and so we've had trouble knocking more than 400 miles a day off the actual route,” said Lemonchois.
The maxi-catamaran from the Gitana fleet still hasn't finalized its remaining route. The team has two options: they could focus on crossing the Intertropical Convergence Zone at its narrowest point via a westerly route; the disadvantage of this option is that the boat will face a long upwind finish. The other choice is to keep to the east in order to reach the doldrums sooner. The decision remains to be made, according to the Gitana 13 skipper: “We haven't decided yet if we'll take the shortest path to the doldrums. We'll know more in 2 or 3 days. The actual point at which we cross the doldrums—more westerly or more easterly—is also important, since the conditions within the doldrums will be very different. But apart from the Convergence Zone crossing, we're really trying to position ourselves most advantageously for the last leg of our trip. Maxi-catamarans, especially Gitana 13, don't like sailing close-hauled. The headwind along with moderately rough seas really slows these boats down.” But the final miles to San Francisco will unavoidably be upwind. That's why Lemonchois and his crew would prefer to reduce the length of this “home stretch,” even if that means spending a few more hours in a wider part of the doldrums.
Gitana 13 is expected to cross back into the northern hemisphere early next week. After more than a month at sea, fatigue is starting to set in. But the sailors on Team Gitana are as intent as ever on notching up this maxi-catamaran's first record under the aegis of LCF Rothschild Group.
Loïck Peyron, who adeptly fills the roles of Team Manager and skipper of the 60-foot monohull Gitana Eighty, is closely following the record attempt by Lemonchois and his men. “It's simply thrilling to follow Gitana 13's record attempt from shore. Lionel Lemonchois and his crew have made excellent progress since leaving New York. The first quarter of their trip was textbook—I think that their performance up to the equator will remain unbeatable. Then, their cruise down the coast of Brazil and Argentina fully exemplified Lionel's philosophy: safe but fast, with excellent mechanical management. Gitana 13 is a demanding boat, but the work done by the members of Team Gitana to optimize its performance is paying off. It's truly gratifying for the whole group, a case of successful teamwork. I also think that the boat's pit stop before Cape Horn was significant: the situation was really rough on the men, and it underscores the need for humility when dealing with the elements. The sport of sailing reminds us that, in the end, it's the weather that decides! After waiting for five days at the "end of the world," Gitana 13 managed to slip through a mouse hole and resume their journey. Although the last part of the route promises to be tricky, since it will be upwind—which Gitana 13 doesn't really care for—I am convinced that the team will be able to bring this, their first adventure of the 2008 season, to an excellent conclusion.”
A bit of history
In the middle of the 19th century, the sailing route from New York to San Francisco became an extremely profitable commercial venture. Travel increased between the east and west coasts of the United States. But the length of the trip—150 days on average—limited the profit potential. Ship owners understood that they could earn more if the journey took less time. So they called on shipyards, which undertook to build veritable "record-chasers."
Grinnel Mintrum Co., a major name in maritime shipping and based in New York, ordered a 71-meter long three-masted sailboat from MacKay shipyard in Boston. The Flying Cloud, the biggest clipper ever built, was launched in April 1851. A young captain named Josiah Perkins Cressy was given command of the ship. That year, the Flying Cloud set the record from New York to San Francisco in 89 days and 21 hours. It trimmed 13 hours off this time three years later. This latter record, a real feat in the 1850s, remained unbroken for more than 135 years.