Sailing round the world: the history of a challenge

Ever since people have realised that the earth is round, they have nurtured a desire to circumnavigate it.

The transport revolution in the 18th and 19th centuries anchored in the collective imagination the dream of setting off to conquer the globe and escape the limits of time by getting round as fast as possible. Phileas Fogg embodied this ambition, completing the challenge in 80 days.

Inspired by Jules Verne's famous character, a handful of visionary yachtsmen have achieved the apparently impossible goal of sailing the world in 80 days. The idea took seed in 1985 in the mind of the Frenchman Yves Le Cornec. He wanted to refit Eugène Riguidel's huge trimaran for a round-the-world trip, having just crossed the Atlantic Ocean in this vessel during the Québec-Saint-Malo race at an average speed of 12.98 knots. Circumnavigation in 80 days seemed possible based on analysis of this performance... but the project foundered because of a lack of funds. 

The idea resurfaced five years later, in 1990, just after Titouan Lamazou won the Vendée Globe (solo round-the-world race) in 109 days 8 hours and 48 minutes. One August evening, Yvon Fauconnier invited a handful of sailors to his houseboat, including Florence Arthaud, Bruno and Loïck Peyron, Jean-Yves Terlain, Titouan Lamazou, Sir Peter Blake and Robin Knox-Johnston. Together they founded the association ‘Round the World in 80 Days’, which sets out an invitation, from sailors to sailors, to take up the round-the-world challenge against the clock. Rules of the game: the aim is to beat the record for sailing round the world via the three great capes – the Cape of Good Hope, Cape Leeuwin and Cape Horn. The starting/finishing line was drawn between The Lizard (southernmost point of England) and the Créac’h lighthouse on the island of Ushant, France. And so the Jules Verne Trophy was born.

The first Jules Verne was a powerful experience, as many people thought the challenge impossible. It was a bit like finding a new route in the mountains.

Bruno Peyron

In 1993, Bruno Peyron, the elder of the Peyron brothers, was the first to complete the challenge, becoming the first holder of the Jules Verne Trophy. At the helm of the catamaran Commodore Explorer, he finished this circumnavigation of 21,760 nautical miles (around 40,000 km) in 79 days 6 hours 15 minutes and 56 seconds. Bruno Peyron still sees this first time as a unique moment: "The first Jules Verne was a powerful experience, as many people thought the challenge impossible. It was a bit like finding a new route in the mountains." The excitement of a journey into the unknown was combined with the certainty of a new field of possibilities. Sir Peter Blake and Olivier de Kersauson set off at almost the same time as him that year, but were forced to give up. Both would have their revenge. The New Zealander, together with Robin Knox-Johnston of the UK, broke the record in 1994 in 74 days, and the Breton in 1997, in 71 days.

A duel ensued between Kersauson and Peyron, with alternating success. Bruno Peyron took the record back in 2002, cutting it to 64 days. The "admiral" from Brest recovered it in 2004, in 63 days, before relinquishing it again to the sailor from La Baule in 2005. That year, Peyron, who counts Bernard Stamm of Switzerland in particular among his team, smashed the record time, cutting it by 13 days. A round-the-world trip in 50 days became a reality.

Every time, it's the same story : the stopwatch calls, and the superlatives jostle for position, raising the irresistible question: how much more time can they cut off the record? During its first 20 years of life, between 1990 and 2009, the Jules Verne Trophy started a veritable revolution and it has aroused no end of interest, with no less than 21 attempts but only six successful ones. In 2010, Franck Cammas, on Groupama 3, added his name to list of record-breakers, with a time of less than 50 days. In 2012, Loïck Peyron did even better. Aboard Maxi Banque Populaire V, which is no other than today’s trimaran Spindrift 2, the sailor from La Baule and his team set a new record: 45 days 13 hours 42 minutes and 53 seconds. This is the time that Yann Guichard, Dona Bertarelli and their team will be trying to beat this winter.