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Frenchman Gabart slashes six days from solo round-the-world sailing record

Damien Mayer, AFP | French skipper François Gabart sprays champagne upon his arrival at the end of his solo around-the-world navigation on December 17 in Brest.

French sailor François Gabart slashed six days and 10 hours off of sailing's around-the-world record on Sunday, recording what many pundits thought was an impossible time of 42 days, 16 hours, 40 minutes and 35 seconds.


Huge crowds of well-wishers were on hand to welcome the sailor to the port of Brest in northwestern France. Gabart was carried aloft by his elated ground crew to shore, where he popped a bottle of champagne.

"I'm aching all over and it's been like that for weeks, weeks since a proper sleep – I can hardly go on," an exhausted Gabart told the press upon his arrival.

"It was hard and I was on the very edge of things the whole time."

The 34-year-old sailor crossed a virtual finish line between the island of Ushant, off France's northwest tip, and Lizard Point in southwest England at 0145 GMT, comfortably beating the previous record set by compatriot Thomas Coville last year by a full six days and 10 hours.

Moments before crossing the finish line, Gabart sent out an emotional video showing his boat's progress on a computer monitor.

"The little blue is us, the red line is the finish. We should cut it soon, the computer says 30 seconds," he said, wiping his eyes.

"I'm happy and proud to have made this lovely voyage around the world," said the  father of two, who is an engineer by trade

François Gabart: 'I was pushing myself to the limit all the time.'

Gabart's race time was announced by an observer from the World Sailing Speed Council but will be subject to checks of the boat's "black box" and its GPS data before final confirmation.

"It hasn't sunk in yet but I know it's a great time," Gabart said.

He becomes just the fourth title-holder of a world record for sailing the globe solo without stopping.

Since the world record was first set in 2004, nearly 30 days have been shaved off that time. The debut record-holder was Frenchman Francis Joyon, who completed the odyssey in 72 days and 22 hours.

British female sailor Ellen MacArthur took to the seas a year later, racing against the clock to break Joyon's record by a day and a half (71 days, 14 hours).

She remained undefeated until 2016, when Thomas Coville set a new record of 49 days and three hours, which many predicted would be difficult to topple.

Gabart made his journey on a state-of-the art, 30-metre-long MACIF maxi-trimaran that comfortably carved its way through the waves and into the record books despite being two years old. 

After embarking on November 4, Gabart was helped by good weather throughout much of the voyage, reaching jaw-dropping speeds of up to 35 knots (65 kilometres an hour).

He set a number of new solo race records along the way, including the fastest navigation of the Pacific (7 days, 15 hours, 15 minutes) and the longest distance covered in 24 hours (851 miles or 1,576 kilometres).

Gabart first circumnavigated the world during the 2013 Vendée Globe race – which he won. He immediately set his sights on breaking the solo non-stop record.

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Coville was quick to congratulate his compatriot for beating his record.

"He's an incredible strategist. He already showed that during the Vendée Globe," he told AFP.

Of the four solo record-holders, Gabart is the only one to have also won a competitive round-the-world race.

"It only confirms that he is talented, that he works hard and leads each project," said Guillaume Combescure, one of the engineers who worked with Gabart.

"He has shown that dreams are a great motivator, that anything is possible," he added.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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