It is already over eight months that Lionel Lemonchois and his men have been sailing the length and breadth of the world's oceans aboard Gitana 13. This morning, they cast off once again, bound for the open sea. Ahead of the 33 metre catamaran lies a seventh and final reference time to beat in order to conclude a record campaign, which has already provided them with a wealth of lessons and discoveries.
Following on from the Route de l'Or, for which they've held the new record of 43 days 3 minutes 18 seconds since last February, the sailors from Gitana Team are tackling another legendary course: the Tea Route. This prestigious commercial route has seen some of the largest clippers of the XIXth century battling across this selective course, which begins with a close-hauled navigation across the China Sea and then the Java Sea, prior to entering the Indian Ocean. Lionel Lemonchois' crew will turn their back on this turbulent ocean immediately after leaving the Cape of Good Hope (SE tip of Africa) to starboard. From there the ten sailors will begin the long climb up the Atlantic Ocean, it too with its own share of surprises. During their target forty days at sea, the crew of the maxi-catamaran equipped by Baron Benjamin de Rothschild, will have the opportunity to adopt a route which is fairly unfamiliar to contemporary sailors. Indeed, to date, no maxi from the G Class has ventured into these regions; the current record being the property of the French sailor Philippe Monnet since 1990.
According to the weather forecasts, over the first days of the course Gitana 13 is set to face a medium SW'ly wind which will clock round to the W. Some close-hauled sailing is on the menu then for the start of the course, which will take the men of Gitana Team fairly near the Vietnamese coast prior to closing on the shores of Malaysia and Indonesia. “The first part of the course as far as the Indian Ocean won't necessarily be very quick. Until we get to the south of Vietnam, the anemometer will rarely exceed 10-15 knots, but as the wind gradually backs we'll be able to pick up the pace as we approach the Java Sea. There aren't likely to be any big surprises as far as the weather is concerned over the initial miles but the crew will have to be on their guard. We noticed during our previous records that our passage across the China Sea is likely to involve a number of encounters (fishing boats and drifting nets dotted about everywhere). In addition, throughout our descent of the Indian Ocean, we're going to pass strings of islands… land will never be that far away” explained Lionel Lemonchois this morning, just minutes before making towards the start line.
Weather analysis for the initial stage: The South China Sea
Sylvain Mondon, forecaster for ocean safety with Météo France, will also be part of the team. Onshore router for the Gitana 13, he describes the weather configuration for the start of the course: “In summer, the monsoon flow kicks in over this part of Asia. The monsoons stem from the SE'ly tradewinds of the southern hemisphere which are created to the east of Indonesia. Having gained sufficient speed these tradewinds manage to cross the equator and as the Coriolis effect changes direction they are deflected towards the right (rather than the left), later tracking round to the south and then the south-west. These winds end their long oceanic journey at the foot of southern China, where they fuel the pluvial storm activity with virtually constant humidity over the Hong Kong region. It is this headwind that Gitana 13 is likely to have to tackle on starboard tack initially, followed by further close-hauled sailing on port tack as they approach the Sunda Strait which marks the entrance into the Indian Ocean.”
A brief history about the Tea Route
Until 1849, the East India Company had the monopoly on the maritime transport of tea. Following this time however, the abrogation of the Navigation laws came about, which protected the trade and opened it up to the American clippers, normally dedicated to cotton. These faster vessels were to impose double tariffs and in order to remain in the race British shippers had to launch themselves into the construction of new yachts: the clippers. Around the middle of the XIXth century, the annual race of the “Tea-Clippers” from China was a real obsession for sailors. The first vessel to reach London with its precious cargo pocketed colossal sums and not inconsiderable prestige. Setting out from London in the winter, the clippers began their outbound voyages carrying various loads towards whatever destination they fancied in the Orient or even Australia. Next, at the height of the summer, the vessels sailed for China where they headed towards the main tea ports, prepared to embark the very first new tea.
Gitana 13 crew
Lionel Lemonchois (Skipper)
Dominic Vittet (navigator) / Ludovic Aglaor / Pascal Blouin / David Boileau/ Léopold Lucet / Ronan Le Goff / Olivier Wroczynski / Ronan Guérin / Laurent Mermod
Gitana 13's records
Route de l'Or (New York – San Francisco, via Cape Horn): in 43 days 3 minutes 18 seconds (February 2008)
North Pacific Crossing (San Francisco – Yokohama): in 11 days 12 minutes 55 seconds (April 2008)
Yokohama – Dalian: 3 days 20 hours 19 minutes and 11 seconds
Dalian – Qingdao: 23 hours 50 minutes and 20 seconds
Qingdao – Taiwan: 3 days 52 minutes and 15 seconds
Taipei – Hong-Kong: 1 day 58 minutes 27 seconds