Solo round the world sailing record attempt : Sodebo's 'Etch-A-Sketch' finish
After setting out on Saturday 29 January at 11:07:28 GMT on his attempt to break the solo round the world record, Thomas Coville and his 105ft maxi-trimaran Sodebo crossed the finish line off Ushant today, Thursday 31 March at 12:15 GMT) after 61 days, 7 minutes and 32 seconds at sea.
This was 3 days, 10 hours, 43 minutes and 26 seconds longer than the time of 57 days 13 hours 34 minutes and seconds Francis Joyon managed aboard IDEC when he set the record in 2008.
Ironically now the numbers have been crunched Sodebo's latest lap may have taken longer but was actually carried out at a faster speed than Joyon's.
Sodebo covered 28,431 miles at an average of 19.42 knots, or 2,031 miles more than that sailed by Joyon, who covered 26,400 miles at an average of 19.11 knots.
This was because due to less favourable weather conditions, Coville wasn’t able to follow as direct a route as the record holder.
Today on the water conditions were similar to when Sodebo departed two months ago, but the maxi-tri was kicking up plumbs of spray from her damaged starboard bow.
On finishing, Coville spun his giant Irens-Cabaret design south for her homeport of La Trinité sur Mer, SW Brittany.
Pulling alongside at La Trinité, Quai des pêcheurs, Coville commented:
"When you see her here, you say to yourself that ultimately it’s a simple feat: this boat which was my companion for 60 days. You transfer human qualities onto her, but when you’re far away from land, she is your shelter, your survival, above all else."
A few minutes earlier, the skipper had raised his head, looking at the crowds along the quay.
With tears in his eyes, he exchanged glances with the anonymous faces, who had come to listen to what the sailor had to say on his return from a two month solo circumnavigation of the globe.
He accepted the ritual champagne, even though he admitted that “this is really something that is reserved for victories.”
The cork wouldn’t budge and ended up being cut with a knife; the same knife the skipper had with him aboard at all times.
“This is for those who attempt things… in life you have to attempt things guys!” Coville proclaimed to those who had gathered at sunset to see him in.
He sprayed the support team and took a mouthful before giving the bottle to the members of his team.
“When we arrived off Ushant this morning, the timekeeper hadn’t even seen me.
It was me that gave him the final time,” he began.
“On arriving at Trého earlier (the channel into La Trinité), it was like an Etch-a-Sketch, you know, the kids’ toy where you can do some doodling and then erase the whole lot with a sweep of the stylus! It suddenly takes you right back to scratch. Today, that Etch-a-Sketch is you! It’s also my wife, my kids, this Sodebo family, this business with whom we’ve built this adventure. There’s a major human element in all this. Even though I’m showing off in front of you, I’m a competitor at heart and this hurts”.
Coville recounts his voyage to the assembled crowd and tells of the Saint Helena high and the moment when he considered returning home; the beat up towards Kerguelen, saying that “going there close-hauled is crazy”, followed by his route south of the ice zone “my pride… even if those routes are there, you shouldn’t take them.”
In what is now a dark night, the scene is reminiscent of a comfortable living room where tales of the sea are told by the fireside.
A voice asks, “and the moment where you buried all three bows at Ushant?!”
“Ahhh, there, if you turn back at Ushant, you’re certainly going to look like an idiot! But I also recall another moment of ‘freestyling’, where the boat reared up till she was completely bolt upright. I was standing on the winch pedestal and there, deep in the South Atlantic, if you turn back, you don’t look like an idiot, you’re just in a very awkward situation.”
So, yes then, “you have to accept the law of Mother Nature as the Anglo-Saxons say. She didn’t want to give me this record, but I’m here this evening so I reckon she’s been kind to let me return. She didn’t keep me.”
After struggling to better ‘the perfect course traced by Francis Joyon” for the third time, the skipper of Sodebo tonight paid homage to the sailor, who remains the fastest man around the world, singlehanded aboard a sailboat.
“I haven’t beaten the record set by a very great gentleman! A sportsman’s main focus is to be an athlete, to respect your adversary and to respect this reference time, which was set by an exceptional man who goes by the name of Francis Joyon. I think that perhaps I am one of the only people to respect his true value because I’ve played with him and against time. This guy, who slogged it out for years to attempt this record, I saw him here in La Trinité. The exceptional guys are those who are in the right place at the right time, and this gentleman performed a perfect circumnavigation of the globe. This evening, I’d like to pass on my hearty congratulations to Francis Joyon.”
Another voice shouts out “Next time Tom!” The sailor replies that “it would be arrogant to look at you here and tell you that I’ll make another attempt at it. Today, it’s such a commitment that I can’t answer you now.”
Joyon, a neighbour of Coville's just outside La Trinite, himself sent this message:
“In a world where oil escaped from the sea bed for weeks on end offshore of New Orleans, a world where nuclear power stations are throwing out radioactive clouds and where seawater has been irradiated to the extent that it has damaged life for generations to come, Thomas Coville has proven, through his journey around the world under sail, that natural energies aren’t lacking in strength. The fact that he hasn’t beaten the round the world record isn’t the most important thing. The key to this journey is that our circumnavigations of the globe, in crewed as well as solo configuration, have been more effective under sail than under power.
"Right now, no boat powered by an engine has managed to circumnavigate the globe as quickly as we do under sail, due to their weight and range associated with the massive amount of fuel required aboard.
"If our sail boats could influence the upcoming decisions about energy, which are both vital and urgent, they could help us understand that the only way forward is free of pollution, CO2 and radiation, using natural energies: the wind, the current and the sun...
Congratulations to Thomas for this fast, damage-free journey across the ocean.