Setting out from New York on 16th January 2008, Lionel Lemonchois and his crew made San Francisco this Thursday 28th February shortly after sunrise on the Golden Gate Bridge. After over six weeks' navigation, their names will be listed as the new titleholders of this legendary record, created in honour of the ‘Gold' seekers of the XIXth century. The winner of the Route du Rhum 2006 at the helm of Gitana 11, now ‘captain' of the maxi-catamaran, gives us his first impressions.
Interview with Lionel Lemonchois
You've improved on the reference time held by Yves Parlier since 1998 by over 14 days. What are your first impressions?
“It's evident that the potential of Yves Parlier's boat (60 foot monohull Aquitaine Innovations) and that of Gitana 13 are without compare. What is interesting to compare are the weather conditions. In 1998, Yves – I remember as I was there -, benefited from more advantageous conditions: Cape Horn didn't make him wait for five days and the climb up the Pacific was very favourable. Personally this is the third time I've sailed this course and I've always found it to be of the same meteorological complexity. The route is riddled with obstacles and tricky passages to negotiate. Furthermore it's very long! This record requires you to perfectly manage the boat: in order not to break it, you have to know when to go fast and when to ease off the pace.”
Why did you choose to attack La Route de l'Or, when no other maxi-multihull has previously attempted it?
“We did it for the very fact that no maxi-multihull had ever tackled it and I wanted to be the first to attempt it… I hope this will give others the idea and the drive to set off on it. For me, La Route de l'Or is one of the most interesting courses and it has a real historic legitimacy. Furthermore, it fits perfectly into the Round the World record programme, which we have set ourselves this year with the Gitana Team.
During my two participations alongside Isabelle Autissier, I was just a 'simple crew member'. Personally, setting out on the New York – San Fransisco again as a skipper of a 33 metre long catamaran and commanding a crew of nine men for several weeks was a real challenge.”
Cape Horn proved rather inhospitable to you, how did the crew deal with the five day wait there?
“Being stuck off Cape Horn was an eventuality that we had envisaged before we set out. Of course we didn't think we'd have to hang around there for five days, but we saw it as a kind of fate and the important thing about this type of journey is to complete it. In any case, it wasn't possible to envisage ending up to windward of the Patagonian coast with a wind of 60 knots and over; that would have been suicidal.”
A word about the boat? And about your nine crew?
“Gitana 13 isn't a modern boat; it has several circumnavigations under its belt and has passed through the hands of a number of skippers: Loïck then Bruno Peyron, Ellen MacArthur. The numerous improvements brought about by the Gitana Team since Baron Benjamin de Rothschild purchased it in 2006 have enabled an enhanced performance and viability. Gitana 13 really hasn't disappointed.
Everybody aboard Gitana 13 during this record was chosen for their maritime competence as well as their human qualities. For ten people to live together in a restricted area for several weeks is a real challenge in itself. The atmosphere aboard remained the same from start to end and everyone fulfilled their role perfectly with tremendous conviviality and the very greatest respect for each other. And this was true even in the most difficult times... No-one complained and all of them are proud to be aboard Gitana 13.”
What is the single overriding memory you would take with you from this record?
“It is obvious on this type of course that the passage of Cape Horn remains the high point of this crossing. Arriving in the area surrounding the 'rock' towards the close of day with its sombre, imposing aspect, didn't leave us feeling indifferent, particularly for those of us for whom this was the first rounding. It's a really emotional moment every time! Thank you to Baron Benjamin de Rothschild for trusting in us and giving us the opportunity to attack this record.”
What is next on your programme and that of Gitana 13?
“Our next objective is the record from San Francisco – Yokohama (held by Geronimo with a time of 14 days 22 hours 40 minutes), with an intended departure in three to four weeks' time. In the meantime, the boat will remain on standby in San Francisco and we'll sit it out there until we can benefit from optimal conditions for this course. It will also be an opportunity for a well earned rest for my crew after over six weeks at sea. The whole crew will return to France for a few weeks, with the exception of one person who will remain here to keep an eye on Gitana 13.”
Figures of the record
New reference time established by Gitana 13: 43 days 38 minutes (Provisional time awaiting approval from the WSSRC) Lionel Lemonchois and his nine crew members improved on Yves Parlier's time by 14 days 2 hours 43 minutes.
Start from New York: Wednesday 16th January, at 1629 (UT)
Passage of the equator (Atlantic Coast) : Wednesday 23rd January at 0724 (UT),
Passage time - 6 days 14 hours 52 minutes
Passage of Cape Horn: Friday 7th February at 2354 (UT),
Passage time - 22 days 7 hours 25 minutes
Passage at the equator (Pacific coast) : Tuesday 19th February at 1256 (UT),
Passage time - 33 days 8 hours 27 minutes