Sunday 29th October : Westbound to begin
Prior to the start, Lionel Lemonchois and his onshore routing team, made up of Yann Guichard and Sylvain Mondon, have drawn up a very precise plan of attack. Initially the aim is to exit the English Channel by adopting a course due West and conserve this heading until the approach of the first cold front awaiting the competitors. At 1202 GMT, Gitana 11 sets sail amidst seventy-three other boats in the 8th edition of the Route du Rhum. Despite light winds, the spectacle is sublime.
Monday 30th October : Passage of the cold front in the evening
Everything is going as planned and after making a turn, at the back of the cold front, in the evening, Lionel Lemonchois is the most southerly of the fleet. The separation, that the skipper of Gitana 11 patiently establishes, is an investment for the next stage of the race. However, it’s also a point where everything could change dramatically…. Just after the switch of heading, the wind is steady and the seas messy. Lionel Lemonchois gives himself a dreadful fright. In the middle of the night, Gitana 11 is on a reach, one of the trickiest points of sail for this type of boat. The trimaran rises up very high on one hull but, fortunately, Lionel is next to the sheets and immediately eases them… Gitana 11 drops back down and carries on her way. This stylistic move will be the only sour note in the seven day crossing.
Tuesday 31st October : Taking power
Downwind of his rival, enjoying some downwind conditions, Lionel Lemonchois uses his favourable position to advantage when getting through the next system, thanks to a fairly early gybe leading right into the high pressure.The aim is to round to the East of a barometric col (synonymous with variable, light winds) by penetrating the stormy depression to the North-East of the Azores. As such the strategy is as follows: head due South as far as the stormy depression then make the most of the disturbed air flow to make gains to the West and quickly join up with the tradewinds. The theoretical part seems to go like clockwork on the water and is very similar to the scenario envisaged by the trio at the start. Indeed it goes so well that Gitana 11 takes the lead of the fleet after a little over 48 hours at sea.
Wednesday 1st November : Lionel into the fast, offensive passage of the Azores
The trimaran fitted out by Baron Benjamin de Rothschild traverses the Azores before gybing to the South of the archipelago, along the edge of the stormy depression. Lionel Lemonchois continues to push his trajectory as close as possible to the centre of the system, a zone where the winds can be very light, but the sailor won’t be stopped… on the contrary, Gitana 11 enjoys a constant air flow of around fifteen knots and rather more manageable seas than her adversaries. In these conditions and benefiting from being in perfect harmony with the boat, Lionel gives himself the luxury of sleeping for four hours in a row, whilst others admit to not having closed their eyes for more than ten minutes…
Thursday 2nd November : The pedal to the metal to get away from the rest of the fleet
After the gybe and the passage through the stormy depression, Lionel Lemonchois doesn’t allow himself any respite. Whilst certain skippers decide to stall as the seas are still difficult and boat-breaking, Lionel chooses to make a break for it. He hoists more sail area aloft and drives Gitana 11 into a corner. At that stage the duo triples their 30 mile lead over the sailor in 2nd place, stretching away to 100 miles ahead of the fleet… Back on shore, observers are impressed; Lionel Lemonchois had just gained the psychological upper hand over his adversaries. Thanks to the boat being in tip-top condition and the intelligent handling of his own physical and mental fitness, the skipper dares to go on where others preferred to stop.
Friday 3rd November : Taking best advantage of the tradewinds
Gitana 11 and Lionel Lemonchois begin their first day in the tradewinds of the northern hemisphere. The laid-back attitude displayed by the skipper during the daily radio link-up with the Press HQ causes listeners to almost forget that life in the tradewinds isn’t a long, calm river. The slightly eased sheets and the steady NE’ly air flow certainly enable the trimaran to lengthen her stride (562 miles covered in 24 hours) but this farreaching navigation calls for the skipper to be on a constant look-out. On deck the work is intense: to adapt the sail plan to the wind strength, with the difficult sail changes that involves at times, then constantly trimming the sails to make the best of the oscillations in the wind.
Saturday 4th November : Choosing the right point to gybe
With the Bermuda high scooping around to the North of the tradewind route and the gradual eastward shift of the tradewinds, competitors have to gybe to switch onto a direct route towards the finish. The main difficulty in play here is to choose the right time to start the manoeuvre. At that moment in the race, Lionel, Sylvain and Yann agree on the ‘seagull wing’ principle as the trajectory to be adopted as far as the northern tip of Guadeloupe. This colourful name is synonymous with a gradual climb beneath the Bermuda high before gybing, then the beginning of a curved descent towards the West Indies. Lionel Lemonchois manages to pull off this move to perfection.
Sunday 5th November : Heading straight for Guadeloupe
Since the previous day’s gybe at the edge of the Bermuda high, Lionel has further extended his lead over his best placed rival. Now right on track, perfectly positioned in the tradewinds, nothing and nobody seem able to stop Gitana 11, which is on a direct course towards victory. She has racked up a lead of over 200 miles over the sailor in 2nd place. At the end of a steady, very pure course, on the evening of 5th November 2006, the trimaran draws level with the northern tip of Basse-Terre, just a stone’s throw from the Îlot de la Tête à l’Anglais.
Monday 6th November : A serene tour of the island
It’s the final test: the tour of Basse-Terre. Once Gitana 11 begins her rotation the sea is like a millpond and the wind evanescent. The last forty miles really set the nerves tingling, at least for the spectators. True to form, Lionel Lemonchois remains serene! Finally Gitana 11 crosses the finish line on 6th November at 05 hours and 21 seconds (GMT). In Guadeloupe it is five hours earlier and countless spectator boats flock into the bay of Pointe-à-Pitre to salute the incredible performance!
A few figures
- The course time : 7 days, 17 hours, 19 minutes and 6 seconds
- Miles covered : 3, 798 miles (7, 033 km)
- The average speed : 19.11 knots