Banque Populaire, the massive French trimaran, is on standby for the Jules Verne Trophy. Let me explain why this is big news. In August 1990 a meeting was held on a barge on the Seine River in Paris. Attending were the elite of offshore sailing including the late Peter Blake, French brothers Bruno and Loick Peyron, Robin Knox-Johnston and other sailing legends who were in the news at the time. This meeting, in the shadow on the Eiffel Tower, gave rise to the Trophée Jule Verne for the first boat to sail around the world in under 80 days. The French Minister of Culture provided $60,000 for the trophy. The Jules Verne novel, Around the World in Eighty Days, provided the inspiration for the name. At the time it seemed almost impossible that anyone could sail a boat of any size and get it all the way around the world in under that magical number. But there were those that were willing to try.
The rules for the circumnavigation weren’t complex. The start was to be between the Lizard, the southwest corner of England, and Ille d’ Ouessant, an island off Brest, France. It is this imaginary line that separates the English Channel from the Atlantic. Competitors were to keep the Cape of Good Hope, at the foot of Africa, Cape Leeuwin, in the southwest corner of Australia, and Cape Horn on their left, or port side.
It was not a race in that all the boats competing started at the same time. Instead the trophy was to be awarded to the first boat to break the record and so competitors could choose their weather window. In the fall of 1993 American Cam Lewis joined Bruno Peyron and a small team of Frenchmen and they set off from France to make the first attempt on the record. Sailing legend Olivier de Kersauson had already departed on his boat Charal, and Robin Knox-Johnston and Peter Blake were ready to go on ENZA New Zealand. Cam’s superb book, Around the World in 79 Days recouts what happened. Charal and ENZA retired and Cam, Bruno and the rest on board the big catamaran Commodore Explorer slipped in just under the 80 day limit; 79 days, 6 hours, 15 minutes and 16 seconds to be exact.
Theirs was a masterful accomplishment and at the time it was almost impossible to imagine that the record could be broken. But broken its been, and many times. The current record now stands at 48 days, 7 hours, 44 minutes and 52 seconds set by Groupama, the stunning French trimaran. Banque Populaire is about to make an assault on that incredibly fast time. The team, led by Skipper Pascal Bidégorry, includes a good friend, Brian Thomson. Thomson is British so you can imagine his talent. The French are not kind when it comes to non Francophiles on their team, but Brian is immensely talented and will fill a vital role as Watch Captain. He will be sending reports from on board and we will be posting them here on courseforadventure.com.