Grands Records: Geronimo’s record attempt
It was at 02:25:16 on 18 February that Geronimo, crewed by the Cap Gemini & Ernst Young/Schneider Electric team, crossed the Round the World Record start line off Ushant. The current holder of the Trophée Jules Verne was on his way to better his own unbeaten record of 1997. Aboard this magnificent racing trimaran – the largest in the world - Olivier de Kersauson was supported by 10 crewmembers, hand-picked for their marvellous combination of passion, spirit and sailing experience.
The first hours set the pattern for the days ahead, and Geronimo lived up fully to the fighting spirit and intelligence of the famous Indian chief whose name she carries. As her captain said at the time, “This is a wonderful boat, responsive and really alive”. She crossed the Bay of Biscay at an average speed approaching 25 knots. As weather conditions held up well in her favour, it took her barely two days to carry her 11 crew as far as southern Spain (which had taken 4 days in 1997). She was passing the Canaries within 60 hours. It was an exceptional performance that boded very well for the rest of the voyage, although Olivier de Kersauson had yet to push either the boat or his crew at all hard. Without calling on the boat’s full reserves, the journey south continued at the same pace for four days until Geronimo drew level with the coast of Mauritania, not far from the Tropic of Cancer.
When she reached the Cape Verde islands, having covered 3,700 kilometres in very quick time, the favourable winds that had brought her so far and so quickly turned and dropped. As Geronimo slowed, the Cap Gemini Ernst & Young/Schneider Electric watches made the most of the opportunity to re-arrange the boat and give her a complete check-up. As they approached the infamous Doldrums, the variable breeze that had been diminishing in strength all the time continued to undermine their efforts and eventually abandoned the trimaran almost completely. Nevertheless, Geronimo never gave up and managed to keep moving on even the slightest breath of air.
Deliverance finally came on 27 February after four very difficult days, when Geronimo managed to pull herself free of the cloying weather system that seemed to have been following her, and crossed the equator. In 20 years of sailing, Olivier de Kersauson had never before encountered such mentally testing conditions in the Doldrums. Despite all these problems, the combined effect of the crew’s continual manoeuvres and Geronimo’s innate speed, meant that they were still two days ahead of Olivier de Kersauson’s previous record. In 1997, it had taken him 9 days and 7 hours to reach the Southern Hemisphere.
Geronimo eventually managed to pick up the southern trade winds and resume something approaching her former pace. The giant trimaran headed south at 20 knots towards her next waypoint: the Cape of Good Hope. The forecasts provided by router, Pierre Lasnier, were relatively optimistic. The next obstacle – the St. Helena high – seemed to be moving off to the east, which would have enabled Geronimo to take a more direct course south. Morale on board was high. «We have a lot of fun to look forward to”, said the delighted skipper.
In her last 24 hours of racing for the record, Geronimo covered over 400 miles and, after 12 days at sea, the crew was completely at home with the boat and already looking forward to crossing the Tropic of Cancer. On Friday morning, off the north coast of Brazil, the trimaran was making excellent headway on a 25 to 30 knot wind in small seas. Geronimo was travelling at over 28 knots when the helm locked solid with a horrendous noise like a pneumatic drill, accompanied by violent vibrations. The crew slowed her and changed her trim, but nothing seemed to work: the rudder blade was shaking itself violently for several seconds at a time, without warning and at random intervals. The problem was becoming more frequent, prevented the crew from maintaining racing speed and threatened to break the entire steering gear, which in turn could have capsized the most powerful trimaran ever built. “Given time, these violent vibrations could have destroyed the steering gear entirely. They aregetting worse and more frequent all the time. We’ve no way of making repairs at sea and continuing to race in conditions like these is just too dangerous. Sadly, the answer is simple. We’ve no alternative but to return home to inspect the damage and avoid making it any worse”, said Olivier de Kersauson to his control centre soon after the problem first revealed itself.
With heavy hearts, they have turned and headed for home.