Duelling French Trimarans Demolish Trans-Atlantic Record 2009 by Peter Marsh

132’ Trimaran Crosses in 3 Days 15 Hours and Covers 1044 Land Miles in One Day!

When two of the fastest offshore multihulls in the world, 105’ Groupama III and 130’ Banque Populaire V, arrived in New York in early June and went on stand-by for an attempt on the trans-Atlantic record. The route from New York to Lizard Point in SW England is the oldest ocean racing course, first contested by clipper ships in the 1800s, then made famous by the steam-powered liners in the first half of the 20th century. So the scene was set for an epic duel between these two maxi multis. In 2007, Groupama had set a new 24-hour record of 794 miles straight out of the gate, and completed the crossing in a stunning 4 days 3 hours 57 minutes—less than 100 hours of sailing! For Banque Populaire, the largest racing multihull in the world, launched less than a year ago, this was to be its first real test. But the skippers were in no hurry. Six weeks passed with the crews on stand-by back in France before their weather routiers had identified clear signs of a deep depression taking shape over eastern Canada.

As we all know, weather forecasting is an uncertain science, but this time the weathermen hit the jackpot, putting the sailors on the coat tails of a “perfect storm” for high-speed sailing. Realistically, nothing less would be capable of pushing them under the record time. Both boats set off within three hours of each other on July 30 in gusty SW winds. Their ambitious goal was to pick up the cold front off the Grand Banks and stay in the same quadrant of the depression the whole way, power reaching on starboard tack for the entire 2900 miles from the Ambrose light to Lizard Point in SW England.

In uncomfortable sailing conditions, mixing a choppy sea with a heavy fog, the two crews rapidly pciked up the pace to an average speed over 30 knots. That sounds impressive, but both boats were actually slower over the first day than Groupama in 2007. On the second day, they did indeed pick up the Canadian cold front and dipped south a few degrees following the depression, with their speed increasing into the mid-30 knot range.

Groupama, being some 80 miles in front, was the first to reach the deep Atlantic where the seas flattened out and the older boat showed that it was still up to the job. By the third day, the 800-mile barrier was broken by Franck Cammas and his crew under staysail and two reefs in the main. With Californian navigator Stan Honey keeping the boat in the red zone, they continued to lift that mark until the log maxed out at 857.5 nautical miles. (Honey also sailed with Steve Fossett on his record-setting 4 1/2-day crossing in 2004.)

But Pascal Bidégorry and the new Banque Populaire with 25% more waterline were closing fast. Within a few hours, Groupama’s record and even the “800-mile barrier” had been completely eclipsed by a new 24 hour mark of 908 milles at an average speed of 37.8 knots. (That’s 1044 land miles in single day!) By then, it was apparent that the bigger newer boat had the raw speed to outrun the “pocket maxi” in this drag race.

Banque Populaire and its crew of 12 overcame their 2 ½ hour handicap and charged into the lead on the final day to reach Lizard Point in just 3 days, 15 hours, 25 minutes–an average speed of 32.94 knots, over half a day ahead of the old mark. The peak speed was 47.15 knots. Groupama took 3 days 18 hours 12 minutes, finishing just three miles astern of Banque Populaire, and beating its old time by 9 hours and 44 minutes.

Two hours and 47 minutes separated the two boats’ times, which had reached the entire way on starboard gybe. As is often the case, the wind was dropping at the end of the course and Groupama showed itself to be faster in winds below 20 knots, snatching back forty miles over the last twelve hours. The comeback by Cammas is a positive element when comparing the potential of the two trimarans. “Banque Populaire V has an impressive speed potential! We suspected she could go faster than Groupama 3 in these weather conditions,” Cammas said as he stepped onto dock.

Footnote: How fast is the new record? The title of fastest steamship on the North Atlantic—and holder of the coveted Blue Riband–was won by the originalQueen Mary in 1938 with a crossing at an average speed of 31 knots. In 1952 the last and fastest liner ever built, the 990 ft S.S. United States (powered by steam turbines generating 248,000 hp) averaged 34.5 knots for the crossing. Banque Populaire averaged 33 knots—under sail!


The name Banque Populaire was transferred to the 105 footer raced solo. It  broke several records in 2013-14, culminating in victory in the 2014 Route du Rhum from France to Martinique in 9 days, helmed by Loick Peyron.

The 132 footer is now part of the Swiss Spindrift racing team. It was also raced solo in the Route du Rhum, almost proved too much for one man, but still placed second.

Groupe Banque Populaire have been sponsoring trimarans since 1989. Previously,  the largest ocean racing multihull in the world was the 120’ catamaran Orange II that also held the triple crown of sailing records: the 24-hour, trans-Atlantic and Jules Verne. The bank commissioned the renowned architects Van Peteghem – Lauriot Prévost (VPLP) to work the Cherbourg shipyard JMV Industries to design a platform that could capture all three of those records.

About seamarsh

Still trying to find the answers to life's nautical questions.
This entry was posted in Multihulls, Ocean Racing & Records and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s