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12 January 2009, 10:50 am
Tension Aboard Sodeb'o As COVILLE Nears The Finish Of Round The World Record Attempt
Thomas COVILLE onboard Sodeb'O
Thomas COVILLE is facing a tough finish to his record attempt

World Record Attempt

Thomas COVILLE is now within 2,000 miles of the finish of his round the world record attempt, but has dropped back to 500 miles behind the world record pace.
After setting out from Brest 54 days ago and now with just 1,775 miles to go and a deficit of just 498 miles on Francis JOYON's (FRA) world record time, Thomas COVILLE (FRA) knows that the coming days will be very demanding and will leave little respite.

COVILLE has rapidly been making up time on JOYON since rounding Cape Horn on 28 December and when he crossed the Equator on 7 January he was 2 days, 3 hours and 18 minutes behind record pace, having clawed back two and a half days on JOYON's pace. In fact, COVILLE has actually been sailing faster than JOYON since the start - a 19.60 knot average for IDEC compared with 19.97 for Sodeb'O - having had to cover 1,450 more miles in order to get round weather obstacles such as the Saint Helena High (JOYON was able to cut through the middle) as well as the immense ice zone in the Pacific.

However, having closed to within 330 miles of JOYON yesterday, COVILLE has slipped back over the past 24 hours, to 498 miles off the world record pace. There's more bad news for the French skipper as well, with weather forecasts suggesting a brutal conclusion which will be far from comfortable.

Contacted by telephone on Sunday morning during his fantastic climb northward with both a remarkable trajectory and a perfect balance between heading/speed, COVILLE described the immediate context and explained what he is expecting of his last few days at sea: "I currently sailing in winds of between 18 and 25 knots, which are very shifty due to the influence of squalls".

Next on the agenda? "A zone of high pressure and hence lighter winds which will require me to make a number of manoeuvres with only a few slots to recuperate".

And after that? "There's barely nothing which is appealing. We're going to get a severe 'beating' from 35 to 40 knots winds, with big seas and around six metre waves. I going to have to grin and bear it and dip into my physical resources".

In short then, all the way to the finish it's all down to the weather. Currently there are oscillating squalls then a variable light period around the Azores High. This will be followed by a strong SW'ly air flow, veering round to the NW with very big seas.

In human terms, this will be far from easy for a skipper who set out nearly eight weeks ago, who has slept very little and, as he confided the other day, a boat which is naturally a little "grazed". Sailing a multihull single-handed in these conditions is certainly not a pleasure cruise after 54 nights which merge into days. COVILLE knows all too well what lies ahead: a course very close to the wind making headway in big seas, which will require extreme vigilance, a lot of manoeuvres and hence a lot of hours on deck.

The Record To Beat

Record: Round the World, non stop, singlehanded
Yacht: IDEC, 90ft trimaran
Skipper: Francis JOYON (FRA)
Dates: January 2008
Elapsed time: 57 days, 13 hours, 34 minutes and 6 seconds
Distance: 21,769 nautical miles
Average Speed: 15.84 knots
ISAF (source: Sodeb'O Voile)
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