BREST, France (AFP) — Frenchman Francis Joyon reclaimed the title of fastest-ever sailor to complete a solo non-stop circumnavigation of the globe from Briton Ellen MacArthur on Sunday when he sailed into the Brittany port of Brest.
The 51-year-old's maxi-trimaran crossed the finish line after 57 days 13 hours 34 minutes and 6 seconds following a 21,600 nautical miles (38,900km) journey.
"57 days, I don't dare believe it," said Joyon, adding that he now hoped to "sleep more than one or two hours a night".
"Right up to the end, I was worried about damage. In the night I almost hit a container ship and I had a fishing boat across from me. It has been a constant struggle."
In his 97ft-long IDEC II, which is 22ft longer than MacArthur's B&Q, the Breton took a massive 14 days off the Englishwoman's record and reclaimed the mark he broke in February 2004.
Then Joyon became the first sailor to circumnavigate the world solo in less than the mythical 80 days of Jules Verne, finishing in 72 days, 22 hours, 54 minutes and 22 seconds.
But just a year later MacArthur took just over a day off this mark.
Joyon came back in July 2005 to smash the world record for the crossing of the North Atlantic by a solo yachtsman in 6 days 4 hours 1 minute and 37 seconds.
And determined to reclaim the round-the-world title Joyon sailed out of Brest on November 23, needing to be back by February 3 (0023 GMT) for the new record.
He set a blistering early pace, reaching the Cape of Good Hope only 15 days and seven hours after his departure - four days and two hours faster than MacArthur in 2005 - with an average speed of 20.12 knots.
He was comfortably on course going across the Indian Ocean setting a new record for that distance, along with records for crossing the Pacific Ocean and the Equator.
But his bid was threatened in the home stretch as he battled strong trade winds reaching 35 knots as he began his climb back up the North Atlantic where he risked dismasting in rough seas and a series of squalls.
MacArthur, who was in Britanny on board a boat welcoming Joyon home, was quick not to rule out trying to reclaim the record, admitting that just hearing updates of the Frenchman's voyage made her want to take to sea again.
"Records are set to be broken," she said, adding that an attempt would not be launched in the next year because she was already committed to previous projects.
"I know it's been hard for him, that he's had to suffer," said MacArthur. "He took different options and benefitted from good weather down to the Horn.
"His boat is bigger so it's normal that he goes quicker but he deserves the record and I'm happy for him."
Before Joyon had neared the record mark, the magnanimous MacArthur admitted she had been keeping her fingers crossed for him.
"Above all, I'm extremely happy for him, what he's done so far is simply incredible, and I've been following his journey every day, talking to him on a couple of occasions."
Jean-Luc Van den Heede, holder of the record for navigating the world westabout against the winds and currents, called Joyon's achievement "extraordinary".
"It really is an extraordinary performance," Van den Heede told AFP. "The boat was more powerful than Ellen's and Francis Joyon is mentally very strong: the combination of the two gives you the performance."
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