Outside Online Archives

Kissing Your Sister

By Tim Zimmermann

Courtesy of The Race
Well, Club Med and Innovation Explorer are officially halfway around the world and the preliminary numbers are in: these maxi-cats are FAST. This week, both boats smashed the record for sailing from the longitude of Africa’s Cape of Good Hope to the longitude of Australia’s Cape Leeuwin. And both boats managed bursts of speed that topped 40 knots.

It took Club Med, still leading The Race by hundreds of miles, just under 32 days to reach the midpoint in the 23,300-mile racecourse, which is just west of New Zealand. Despite the abuse of the Southern Ocean, which included a shattered plexiglass cockpit window, the 110-foot rocketship was proclaimed by skipper Grant Dalton to be in fine fettle. Barring major breakdown, the speed of the trip out suggests a potential round trip of just 65 days (and that includes 1,000 miles of Mediterranean sailing; the circumnavigation could be as fast as 60 days if you count only the Gibraltar to Gibraltar time).

The world record for the fastest circumnavigation—and the Jules Verne Trophy—is currently in the possession of French sailor Olivier de Kersauson, who in 1997 circled the globe in just over 71 days, 14 hours. De Kersauson sailed about 25,000 miles at an average speed of 14.55 knots. Just over a month into The Race, and as she approached the halfway point, Club Med had covered 13,796 miles at an average speed of 19 knots. No matter how fast Club Med gets to The Race finish in Marseilles she won’t officially be awarded the Jules Verne Trophy since the official Jules Verne course requires a yacht to start and finish in the English Channel. But if you extrapolate Club Med’s average speed to date over the 25,000 miles that de Kersauson covered, she would sail the Jules Verne course in just under 55 days. In short, she would obliterate the Jules Verne record, reducing it by more than 20 percent.

Of course, there are a lot of dangerous miles left to be sailed and Cape Horn awaits. Sail damage, rig damage, or collision with a whale, ice chunk, or even a log, could all knock Club Med off her blistering pace. But the big blue boat’s demonstrated dominance to this point already has Dalton arguing that if he covers the second half of the globe as fast as the first half, the Jules Verne trophy should be awarded to Club Med by simple acclaim. “What is Jules Verne? The fastest boat around the world ever,” Dalton argues. “You go do [the official] Jules Verne but you go around the world slower than these boats, it’s kissing your sister, you’ve done nothing.”

That’s the sort of argument over which a lot of beer will be spilled. But if you prefer concrete terms, the 24-hour speeds of the maxi-cats also go a long way toward making the case that this new breed of cat is something very special. Before the arrival of the maxi-cats, the greatest distance ever sailed in 24 hours was 540 miles. Then in March 1999 PlayStation, the first maxi-cat built for The Race, went out into the seas east of New Zealand and posted a mark of 580 miles. It didn’t last long. Last summer, Club Med reeled off 625 miles. And during the course of The Race, Club Med, Team Adventure and Innovation Explorer have all made the 600-mile mark—an unthinkable barrier just two years ago--seem (almost) routine. On Friday, Innovation Explorer became the latest maxi to lay her claim to the record. Under co-skippers Loick Peyron and Skip Novak, Innovation averaged 26.16 knots over 24 hours to raise the ante to 629.19 miles. With the gentle Pacific ahead--and Cam Lewis on Team Adventure thousands of miles behind with nothing much to shoot for other than records—you can bet even that mark is doomed. In fact, both Grant Dalton and co-skipper Franck Proffit have mentioned a new threshold that is absolutely preposterous…except, maybe it isn’t: 700 miles in a single day.

More Adventure