The ARKEA ULTIM CHALLENGE – Brest, which starts from Brest, France on Sunday 7th January will be the first ever solo race round the world on giant Ultim trimarans, the biggest and fastest ocean going sailboats in the world. There are many different round the world challenges under sail – solo and crewed – but the ARKEA ULTIM CHALLENGE – Brest sees six solo skippers preparing to push the boundaries of singlehanded racing to a new extreme.
Sailing around the world by boat was initially just done on monohulls. It was Sir Robin Knox Johnston who really threw down the gauntlet when he won the Golden Globe Race in 1967, 313 days. But not long after that came the time of the multihulls, and the solo records have increasingly become the domain of the big multis.
Colas, forever the first
It was some 50 years ago, in 1973, that one man attempted the solo challenge aboard a multihull. The pioneer’s name was Alain Colas and he retains an important place in sailing history, especially as he only discovered the sea at the age of 22, training alongside the legendary Éric Tabarly from whom he bought the 1968 built 20.8m aluminium trimaran Pen Duick IV. Colas dreamed of being the first to complete a round- the-world passage on a multihull. He started at the same time as the competitors in the first Whitbread (the crewed round-the-world race with stops) Despite technical problems, carbon dioxide poisoning, a month-long stop in Sydney and crossing “the land of misery” has he described the Southern Oceans he returned to Saint-Malo in 169 days
Thirteen years late two different sailors set off to tackle this record: Philippe Monnet and Olivier de Kersauson. Monnet was the first to set off and got to the finish with two stops but he lowered it by no less than 40 days. De Kersauson then also stopped twice and also got snared by the Doldrums but lowered the record by 4 days.
The 21st century and the record drops all the time
Actually it is the 21st century when a meaningful solo non stop multihull record benchmark is set and the solo round the world challenge really gained momentum. After it was sailed fully crewed to the Trophée Jules Verne record as Sport Elec few years earlier Frances Joyon defied the skeptics in February 2004 sailing on the same powerful 90ft trimaran to become the first solo non stop circumnavigator on a multihull when he laid down a record of 72 days 22hours. He set out looking to better Michel Desjoyeaux’s solo record of 93 days and smashed it.
After her Vendée Globe success British sailor Ellen MacArthur had built a 75ft trimaran to challenge for the all out record and went on to lower Joyon’s record by 32 hours. Joyon had IDEC II built and lowered the solo record to a seemingly remarkable 57 days 13 hours.
Then came Thomas Coville who made no fewer than five attempts including two complete circumnavigations without breaking the record (2009, 2011) before he lowered the mark to 49 days 3hrs finishing in Brest on Christmas Day 2016 declaring that “ten years of work have come to fruition”. Coville had a developed a formula for his setbacks “I tried, I failed, I fell, I got up, I rebuilt myself”.
That record stood until 2017 when the 34-year-old François Gabart set the current record at 42 days 16hrs 40min on his first attempt. He had the winning touch, triumphing in the Vendée Globe (2013), the Route du Rhum (2014), the Transat Jacques Vabre (2015) and the The Transat (2016). With sponsors Macif, he had built a new boat: the cockpit is closed for the first time, the tri is much lighter (14 tonnes) and built for solo sailing. “In order to beat the record, you need good weather, luck and success,” explained Gabart on his arrival in Brest. He got all three and the record stands today.
Non stop records
2017 42d 16h 40m 35 François Gabart (FRA) Macif Trimaran 100 ft, Finished 17/12 Still the second fastest outright circumnavigation time.
2016 49d 3h 7m 38s Thomas Coville (FRA) Sodebo Ultim ( previously Geronimo) Trimaran 102 ft Finished on 25/12/2016.
2008 57d 13h 34m 06s Francis Joyon (FRA) IDEC 2 Trimaran 97 ft, Finished on 19/12/2008
2005 71d 14h 18m 33s Ellen MacArthur (UK) B&Q/Castorama Trimaran 75 ft Finished 08/02
2004 72d 22h 54m 22s Francis Joyon (FRA) IDEC (formerly Poulain) Trimaran
Now in Brest some six years later, six sailors are making ready conquer the oceans singlehanded. Bear in mind record attempts inherently wait – often many weeks – for the perfect weather window whereas the ARKEA ULTIM CHALLENGE – Brest in theory starts on an arbitrary day at a fixed time and so it is unlikely that Gabart’s record will be broken.
Five rules from the Sailing Instructions.
The start line is kept open for 168 hours and the finish line is closed after an elapsed time of 100 days after the start time, that is to say 16th April 2024.
The skippers can communicate and exchange with their teams on shore, so they have the freedom to get weather information and be routed by their team on shore and get technical help and advice to help with technical problems
The solo skippers can stop but there are two distinct operations. A technical stop is unassisted and requires the sailor to drop anchor, take a mooring, or tie up alongside an anchored or moored boat with no external help. There is no time penalty for a technical stop. But for a technical stopover (escale technique) where on or more crew or technical team come on board to help there is a mandatory 24 hours minimum. This does not apply to the start port of Brest where all means are authorized to reach or leave the port within a radius of 50 miles.
For the first time in ocean racing zones where there are known to be a high concentration of whales and sea mammals are determined. Establishing these zones should both protect the marine wildlife and reduce the chance of a collision. These zones are established with Share The Ocean and are around the Azores, the Canaries, south of South Africa, the Kerguelens and parts of the Antarctic.
There are ice exclusion zones to protect the skippers and their boats
Friday sees the arrival of the skippers and the UKTIMS
The race village will be opened on Friday at 10 a.m. local time and will then be open every day until the start. There is an 11,000 m2 exhibition space to be enjoyed before welcoming the six skippers and their boats throughout the afternoon.
From Friday, everything really starts to happen in Brest at the Quai Malbert village.
The skippers will arrive in the afternoon
The village will be officially open from 10 a.m. The inauguration will take place at 5 p.m. with local elected officials, representatives of the sponsors and the organization. The afternoon offer entertainment for all ages as all the competitors arrive and dock in the port
The strong wind and weather conditions have required the organizers, in conjunction with the teams, to slightly modify the program. The Ultims will arrive one by one in Brest and will enter through the narrows where spectators will be able to witness their arrival. Adagio (Éric Péron) is the first to be expected there (2:30 p.m.) followed by the Maxi Banque Populaire XI (Armel Le Cléach) and then Sodebo (Thomas Coville).
Forty-five minutes later, the skippers will arrive near the port in Brest harbor. Here again, numerous viewpoints will allow the general public to admire the Ultims before their arrival at the pontoons. While the technical teams are busy on the boats, the sailors will be interviewed on the quay, allowing the public to get the scoop on their first reactions to Brest. Enough to kick off these ten days of celebration in the best possible way before the big departure.
Adagio: 2:30 p.m. (entrance to the narrows), 3:15 p.m. (entrance to the port)
Maxi Banque Populaire XI: 3:30 p.m. (entrance to the gully), 4:15 p.m. (entrance to the port)
Maxi Edmond de Rothschild: 4:15 p.m. (entrance to the narrows), 5 p.m. (entrance to the port)
Actual Ultim 3: 5 p.m. (entrance to the narrows), 5:45 p.m. (entrance to the port)
Sodebo Ultim 3: 5:30 p.m. (entrance to the narrows), 6:15 p.m. (entrance to the port)
Follow the race on https://arkeaultimchallengebrest.com/eng