Gitana 13's Route de l'Or, week for week
On Wednesday 16th January at 1629 (UT), Gitana 13 set off on the first record attempt of its 2008 campaign: bound for San Francisco via Cape Horn against the prevailing winds. Lionel Lemonchois and his nine crew got off to a great start in a NNW'ly air flow, which was very shifty in strength.
Week 1 (from 16th to 23rd January)

Four days after their departure and following a tussle against a high off Bermuda, the men of Gitana Team reached the steady tradewinds of the Northern hemisphere. “The start of this record has been fairly tiring as we had to do a lot of work on deck to try to get the best out of the boat” highlighted Léopold Lucet. The first Doldrums of this adventure proved to be very discrete, letting the maxi-catamaran equipped by Baron Benjamin de Rothschild pass through like a hot knife through butter. On Wednesday 23rd January at 0724 UT, less than a week after setting out, Lionel Lemonchois and his crew reached the equator. They racked up a very fine performance and established a great initial reference time by covering the 4,000 miles separating New York and the equator in 6 days 14 hours 52 minutes! Four of the ten sailors onboard celebrated their first passage of the ‘line' separating the two hemispheres.

Week 2 (from 23rd to 30th January)

After their passage of the equator, Lionel Lemonchois and his nine crew required composure and doggedness as the following week proved to be very tumultuous: the clash of the hot tropical region and the humid Brazilian region churned out a series of lows in the space of a few hours, thus upsetting the forecasts and breaking up the fine tradewind mechanics from one day to the next: easing winds, accelerations, calm zones, passages of fronts, the crew of Gitana 13 was confronted every 300 miles by a new and different weather system as far as the South of Argentina. “Since the Doldrums (from which they escaped on 23rd January), things haven't been easy! We have had to battle with some shifty winds, both in strength and direction, and then had to try to avoid the pitfalls of zones of squalls and then calms… it dragged on a bit!” confided Lionel Lemonchois. However the maxi-catamaran's speed enabled Lionel Lemonchois' men to keep moving and zigzag their way between all the South American traps.

It was during this second week, that the ten sailors on Gitana Team performed their first change of tack. Indeed, dDespite the vast amount of sail trimming, the 33 metre long catamaran spent its first ten days at sea on a single tack.

Week 3 (from 30th January to 6th February)

Gitana 13 was then able to make southing, off the Argentinean coast, and the further down the maxi-catamaran dropped, the more hostile the conditions off the tip of South America became. “The 40 to 45 knot SW'ly gale, which scooped us up along the North coast of Tierra del Fuego was just a taste of what was to come… Some days ago, we looked into the wind and the sea state around the Horn in particular with Sylvain. To commit ourselves to this zone, we'll need at least a 60 hour window to cover the 1,000 miles, which separate us from 45° South, so as to be sure to escape the next low in the sequence” explained Dominic Vittet.

Cape Horn constitutes one of the major difficulties of this record between New York and San Francisco. And this year, the weather conditions, which were reigning around the infamous rock at the start of February, forced Lionel Lemonchois and nine solid crew to retrace their steps and sit it out on zone, waiting for the weather to become more clement and stand a chance of passing through into the Pacific. Initially scheduled for the day of Saturday 2nd February – the birthday of ‘Captain' Lemonchois! - salvation from the legendary black cliff didn't actually take place until some days later…

Week 4 (from 6th to 13th February)

After 5 and a half days wandering around in the shelter of the shores of Tierra del Fuego – where Lionel Lemonchois and his men still had to endure 65 knot gusts barepoled! - the lights turned green to use one of Nicolas Raynaud's expressions. At the end of 120 difficult miles in particularly big seas from Le Maire Strait, Gitana 13 rounded Cape Horn from East to West on Thursday 7th February at 2354 (UT), 22 days 7 hours 25 minutes after leaving New York. The maxi-catamaran equipped by Baron Benjamin de Rothschild then had a total of six new Cape Horners aboard, an honour which Lionel Lemonchois has had for a good few years. “Under ORC and three reefs, here we are tacking in Le Maire Strait for the third time in five days. The seas are still big, but fortunately, as forecast, the wind and the seas are easing. It was at 2354 UT that we finally passed to the South of the island of Cabo de Hornos. We still had to find a little passage through this zone though and had we missed that gap we'd have had to have waited another four to five days" explained Nicolas Raynaud.

And though the Horn marked the midway point of the course, it also meant the end of the Atlantic Ocean and the start of the immense Pacific Ocean for the ten crew of Gitana 13: some hostile waters, little known about but much feared by sailors that have passed that way before. It proved to be a tough introduction for Lionel Lemonchois and his crew.

Week 5 (from 13th to 20th February)

“With four weeks under our belt, already, only, we're not too sure anymore… The only thing we're really sure about is that San Francisco is still a long way off! Although we virtually only adopted a 'useful' course for the first section of our race against the clock, this climb towards the goal hasn't enabled such effectiveness. Yesterday, we covered 500 miles, but we made just 395 miles towards the goal" it reads in the onboard commentary of 13th February. This fifth week at sea was to be marked by the rounding of the Easter Island high, which Lionel Lemonchois' crew passed to the East of. It was in a moderate SE'ly air flow that the ten sailors climbed up towards the Northern hemisphere amidst a series of gybes. The next few days were spent under large gennaker and without too much activity on deck, which they described as being restful prior to tackling the Pacific Doldrums.

The maxi-catamaran in the colours of the LCF Rothschild Group, crossed the equator on Tuesday 19th February at 1256 (UT), 33 days 8 hours and 27 minutes after passing the Ambrose Light, which marks the entry into the port of New York. "We've had the Statue of Liberty, the equator, Cape Horn, the equator again, all that remains is the Golden Gate Bridge” joked Lionel Lemonchois during his return into the Northern hemisphere, after sailing ‘upside down' for over 26 days!

Week 6 (from 20th to 27th February)

Though the Atlantic Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone proved to be rather mild to say the least, its Pacific counterpart caused Lionel Lemonchois and his men no end of trouble. Imagining themselves to be free of it on 21st February, the ten sailors were caught up in a zone of calms it was dishing up and it took nearly two extra days to definitively extract themselves from the equatorial front.

However, the last few miles still separating the maxi-catamaran from its final destination weren't going to be a walk in the park either: upwind sailing – a point of sail which rarely appeals to Gitana 13 – at the edge of the Californian high, was to punctuate the course leading them to San Francisco. On Tuesday 26th February, less than two days from the finish, Lionel Lemonchois and his crew found themselves caught between two very different weather situations leaving them no choice but to zigzag from one to the other: “To our West there is a zone of high pressure synonymous with light winds whilst to our East a corridor of steadier winds is forming along the coast. The aim over these final 24 hours is going to be to successively play these two phenomena off against each other. The direct course is guiding us northwards, but as soon as the wind eases too much we put in a tack to regain more pressure. Then as soon as the wind fills in again, we make for the edge of the zone of high pressure once more… and vice versa” Dominic Vittet summarized from the maxi-multihull's chart table.

Thursday 28th February

The day dawned just a few hours before Gitana 13 slipped her bows under the Golden Gate Bridge. Two and half miles further on, the island of Alcatraz and its famous prison loomed up in front of them. The maxi-catamaran crossed the finish line of La Route de l'Or at 1707 (UT) and Lionel Lemonchois and his nine crew set a new record between New York and San Francisco of 43 days 3 minutes 18 secondes; the first 33 metre catamaran in the colours of the Gitana Team.

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