At 11:24 UTC Thomas Coville on Sodebo was 200 metres away from land as he rounded Cape Horn with Neutrogena, one of the monohulls from the Barcelona World Race.
A few hours previous the solo sailor was tackling a storm; a real squall with 6 to 8 metre waves and wind gusting to 50 knots, "At times like that,"
admitted Coville, "You feel very small I can tell you."
It was night and using his instinct alone, he put a third reef in the mainsail. "Nothing was forcing me to do it"
he explains. Doubtless this is the survival instinct and experience that is kicking in above all else.
Indeed all those who sail around the world confirm it: though the Pacific is the largest ocean in the world, it's also the most fearsome with its violent winds that never let up as they circle the Antarctic accompanied by ferocious waves picked up by ocean trenches measuring over 10,000 metres.
Named in this way in the 16th century by a certain Magellan, who clearly encountered some calms, the South Pacific is more reminiscent of a minefield for ocean racers who have just one desire - to get out of it as fast as they can. This was case today for the skipper of Sodebo, who quite rightly referred to the scorpion-shaped tip of South America as "The Cape of Good Deliverance."
Coville linked up with Franck Cammas during the rounding of Cape Horn and they recalled the climb up the Atlantic and the acceptable conditions that the skipper on Sodebo is likely to encounter, at the start at least. As Coville explained "with some upwind conditions initially, weaving in and out to negotiate the zone of high pressure and hunt down the tradewinds."
Coville then poured out his feelings about sailing singlehanded, recognising that he often thinks about the experience of sailing as a ten man crew aboard a multihull, and that he sometimes regrets the fact that he doesn't have an extra pair of hands onboard to help him. "What I'm attempting belongs to the extreme element,"
The skipper then went on to describe Cape Horn, "This rock; a big rock with its hills and its pastures dropping right down to the sea like the bow of a boat."
Having just spent 38 days without seeing an ounce of land the skipper decided to "dedicate Cape Horn to all those who have a project in their head or in their heart,"
and advised them to "go for it even if it seems crazy."
Concentrated for the past 38 days on the exceptional reference time achieved by Francis Joyon in 2008, the skipper of Sodebo is racking up the miles with extra-terrestrial consistency. Setting out from Brest on Saturday 29 January, Thomas Coville has already clocked up 19,186 miles, which he's covered at an average speed of 21.03 knots.
The solo sailor aboard Sodebo is rocketing across the oceans with a target average speed of 20 knots. He has 7,000 miles to go as the crow flies between the Horn and Brest. Working furiously to stay in the present, forcing himself to focus on his speed and "avoid getting annoyed by going over the same scenario over and over again."
Being a competitor at heart, Coville knows that he has 19 days, 13 hours, 16 minutes and 34 seconds ahead of him to beat the solo round the world record which stands at 57 days, 13 hours, 34 minutes and 06 seconds.
When heading into battle with the Pacific, Coville set himself the objective of having a deficit of less than 1,000 miles at Cape Horn before taking on the climb up the Atlantic in psychologically more comfortable conditions than he had four years ago, where he had a deficit of 4 days. On crossing the longitude of Cape Horn today, Tuesday 8 March, he had a deficit of 687 miles in relation to Idec.
As such he still has everything to play for. Francis Joyon had to slow down the other side of Cape Horn to repair his boat. Coville's boat is apparently in perfect condition with the exception of two mainsail battens which were snapped in a broach a few days ago. As regards the physical challenge represented by the 7,000 miles left to go, this doesn't seen to be a concern for the skipper of Sodebo.
The Record To Beat
Name: Francis Joyon (FRA)
Dates: January 2008.
Elapsed time: 57 days, 13 hours, 34 minutes and 6 seconds
Average speed: 15.84kts
For more information on Sodebo click here.
World Sailing Speed Record Council website