Thomas COVILLE is just over 1,000 miles from the finish of his solo round the world record attempt, but despite an incredible run over the past two weeks has admitted the chance of him breaking the world record has gone.
To date, solely Ellen MACARTHUR (GBR) and Francis JOYON (FRA) have succeeded in circumnavigating the globe single-handed in a multihull without stopovers. With just 1,189 miles to the finish at the latest polling this morning, Thomas COVILLE (FRA) looks set to be the third skipper to join the list.
Now level with the Azores, the skipper of the Maxi Trimaran Sodeb'O is preparing for his arrival in Brest. However, he is having to face facts and cannot hide his disappointment as a competitor: he won't beat JOYON's world record time this year, the latter taking 57 days and 13 hours to sail single-handed around the world during the same period last year.
COVILLE is expected in Brest on the evening or the night of Friday 16 January. He's likely to take around two days more than JOYON. The skipper of Sodeb'O, already a solo 24 hour distance record holder, will achieve the fourth fastest outright time, following on from IDEC in solo configuration and the crewed performances of Orange II and Cheyenne. Twenty years ago, in the 20th century, Olivier DE KERSAUSON (FRA) received a hero's welcome in Brest after single-handedly sailing around the globe in 125 days, with two stopovers; that is double the time taken by sailors at the start of the 21st century.
Since exiting the Doldrums, where there was still a slim chance of beating the record, the sequence of weather has not been favourable to speed. The weather over the past two days has ended up crushing any hope of victory. The Azores High has stretched itself out, pinning the Maxi Trimaran's hulls to the sea in erratic winds. The story is in no way over though. There is one last hand-to-hand fight awaiting COVILLE from today. Sodeb'O will have to tackle one of the most violent lows since his departure. Six metre waves are forecast, accompanied by a SW'ly wind, veering round to the NW and filling in to over 30 knots. "The NW'ly rotation will be very quick which won't do me any favours. To make northing, I'm going to have to sail as close to the wind as possible in conditions which will be testing for both the boat and myself."
Whether or not you are an expert or a sailor, it is impossible to remain impassive about the global blockbuster that such a voyage represents. From the outset, COVILLE has often said: "To sleep isn't compatible with speed."
The stress of sailing a multihull prevents you from recuperating and transforms sailors into machines racking up the miles "virtually animal-like at the service of the boat".
This morning he had more to say about single-handed and multihull sailing: "You imagine you're setting out with limits and yet the only limits are those you set yourself. Those that I set myself have been smashed to pieces. For eight weeks I maintained the pace that I'd set myself in the North Atlantic record, which lasted less than six days. On a round the world, you can no longer be conservative. I think you can go even faster. Performance will come from speed".
In order to go around the world at these speeds you need a massive amount of experience and the skipper of Sodeb'O acknowledges how much progress he's made. "I couldn't have conceived this boat 10 years ago. The progress I've made and the knowledge I have amassed about the multihull have enabled me to achieve something I hadn't envisaged. It's fulfilling and very exhilarating. This 32 metre trimaran is the fruit of experience".
The solo sailors in the Vendée Globe have also noticed what a rotten year it's been for circumnavigating the globe!
The trains of depressions in the Indian Ocean have picked up chaotic, cross seas, day after day, without a fraction of fluidity in the transitions between systems. This has brought the boat to a standstill at times, as has been the case over the last few days, under the influence of the Azores High. There was also ice drifting a long way north in the Pacific, forcing the sailors in this zone to climb beyond 47 or 48 degrees South, whilst JOYON was last year able to drop below 53 degrees. A few days before Cape Horn and without wishing to take risks or extend his course, COVILLE spent 48 hours slaloming his way through a field of icebergs, in monstrous seas, with frozen hands and fear at the pit of his stomach. And as the skipper says: "it's not you that controls the gates when they're closed!"
In this particular project, COVILLE and Sodeb'O had several objectives, of which the first was to set out with the best boat there is. COVILLE highlights, "the pleasure from beginning to end of designing, building, ensuring reliability and fine tuning this three-hulled prototype". The second objective is to finish. "If I finish then I'd have fulfilled the first two aims I set myself". However, he went on to say this morning: "Though I'll have the satisfaction of finishing and, most of all, of having built a reliable boat, I won't have the outright solo record. I set out to hunt down performance. I do a job where I'm exposed, where I'm constantly putting myself in danger. On a competitive level, you need a little success. I'm like someone who works outdoors, a farmer or a wine grower, with some years which are more prosperous than others. There are years with better vintages than others. I feel like I've had a bad harvest" he concludes.
Sodeb'O had yesterday covered 679 miles more than IDEC a year ago. Yet he was faster - 19.6 knots for COVILLE compared with 19.1 for JOYON, which is half a knot better. It's a remarkable average which has required a superhuman effort and an exceptional boat, and the duo will spend the last four days tackling some rough to very rough weather.
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