Named for the author Jules Verne, who, in 1872, sent his protagonist Phileas Fogg
off around the world in an attempt to circumnavigate it in 80 days or fewer, the Jules Verne trophy is one that quickens the pulse of any sailor, no matter their age.
In the author’s day, the technology that could propel any form of transport non-stop around the globe within the specified time frame did not exist outside the pages of his book. Almost one hundred years later, in 1985, when a group of sailors gathered for an evening celebrating a successful transatlantic crossing, the idea of an unbroken circumnavigation of the globe – 26,000 miles – by sail power alone still seemed only slightly less audacious. Nevertheless, an idea, and a challenge, was born.
The trophy differs from other sailing challenges in that it is open to any type of yacht, crewed by any number of sailors. The only stipulations are that the vessel is registered with the Jules Verne trophy organisation and the requisite fee is paid. Crews making the attempt sail from east to west around the globe, starting and finishing the race by crossing an imaginary line at the entrance to the English Channel that runs between Lizard Point in the UK and Ushant Island in France. During the challenge, they must pass the Cape of Good Hope, Cape Leeuwin and Cape Horn, all of which, as any sailor knows, are situated in some of the most dangerous waters in the world.
Winners of the trophy receive no financial reward. Aside from personal pride and professional approbation, the trophy itself is the prize. It takes the form of a sculpture of a boat’s hull on a magnetic field, with the sailors’ names engraved on an aluminium base. The Paris Musée Nationale de la Marine is the caretaker and exhibitor of the trophy, with winners being given a small magnetised replica. This follows a formal ceremony in which the new record holder places the trophy’s hull into its magnetised mooring.
Back in the 1980s, the trophy was a challenge to boat designers and sailors alike. Both rose to the occasion. The first holder of the trophy was the Explorer, a Catamaran, skippered by Bruno Peyron, which managed the feat in 79 days 6 hours 15 minutes 56 seconds.
As of March 2017, there have been nine holders of the trophy, and considerably more failed record attempts. The IDEC Sport, skippered by Francis Joyon, is the present holder. The vessel completed its circumnavigation in January 2017 after 40 days 23 hours 30 minutes 30 seconds at sea.
Although promising an adventure like no other, the trophy has not been without controversy. In 2004, for example, Steve Fossett broke the previous record in the Catamaran, Cheyenne. He never received the trophy. Reports suggest that the organisers charged him a higher entry fee than other competitors, which he refused to pay.
Controversy aside, in an age increasingly hedged with safety concerns and restrictions, and where there is little fresh ground for would-be adventurers to tread, the Jules Verne trophy is a summons that many sailors still find themselves heeding with excitement and trepidation.
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