Thomas COVILLE crossed the finish line on his solo round the world record attempt off the Petit Minou light in Brest on Saturday 17 January at 10:41:57 seconds UTC, missing the world record by just over two days.
The sailor and his Maxi Trimaran Sodeb'O completed their circumnavigation of the globe in 59 days, 20 hours, 47 minutes and 43 seconds, just over 50 hours slower than the world record of 57 days, 13 hours, 34 minutes and 6 seconds held by Francis JOYON (FRA). COVILLE is the third sailor after JOYON and Ellen MACARTHUR (GBR) to have successfully sailed around the world without stopovers. Each of them, as well as Olivier DE KERSAUSON (FRA), have paid tribute to the skipper of Sodeb'O and his performance.
On his arrival in Brest, COVILLE, his eyes reddened by exhaustion, was immediately questioned by the awaiting press, "I gave it my all; I didn't let up for a minute,"
he said before being overcome by emotion. "I set out to get the record and that's something I wasn't able to achieve."
Further questions ensue. In order to answer, COVILLE doesn't look at his fellow creatures but at the sky and his multihull. "I've experienced something very deep with this boat, a total osmosis, which is a rare thing. She reacted and behaved exceptionally. It's unimaginable. She was incredibly sound downwind. I committed her to the water up to halfway up the trampoline and she came back up. She never let me down".
Right up to the finish line and the entrance to the Brest channel, the skipper remained concentrated. "It's a dangerous and very complicated place to deal with singlehanded. The last night was very special. I was keen to stay under 60 days. I didn't imagine I could stretch myself so far. On shore, you set yourself limits which don't exist."
Alone aboard a demanding 32 metre long boat, constantly pushing back the limits of extreme fatigue, COVILLE racked up the fourth best outright time around the globe, behind the crews of Bruno PEYRON (FRA) in 2005 and Steve FOSSETT (USA) in 2004 and the solo sailor JOYON in 2008. Though he was unable to outdo JOYON's performance in terms of speed, during his circumnavigation of the globe, COVILLE beat his own 24 hour distance record on 7 December 2008: 628.5 miles (1,164 km) devoured at 26.2 knots (48.5 km/hr)!
Last year JOYON sailed 26,400 miles at an average speed of 19.11 knots. COVILLE's course was certainly longer (28,125 miles) but it was also faster (19.60 knots)
At the harbour entrance in Brest, the three metre waves of the Iroise left the way clear for a good swell. Under one reef mainsail and solent, downwind in a 15-20 knot SW'ly, the Maxi Trimaran returned to the point she set out from on 18 November 2008. COVILLE crossed the finish line standing on the bow of the central hull, his hands in his pockets.
World record holder, JOYON commented, "Bravo Thomas. Although you weren't victorious the record only just escaped you and, most importantly, you managed to overcome all the difficulties and all the risks, which form part of the charm of a solo round the world aboard a multihull. That in itself is a real success: welcome to the non-stop round the world multihull fanatic club to which there are just three members for now with Ellen! I followed your voyage without ever doubting that you could make up your deficit, because the detour you had to make on the descent of the Atlantic would be compensated by the headwinds that I encountered on the climb up that stretch of ocean. It's exciting to see that on such a long voyage, you can compensate for the favourable moments of weather and things all balance out in the end!"
MACARTHUR added, "Only three people in the world know the brutality and stress of a round the world without stopovers aboard a multihull. One of them, a certain Mr Thomas COVILLE, has just arrived in Brest. For the majority of those who will celebrate his arrival, the feat will inspire admiration and respect, and I shall doubtless be the most devout of these admirers. I've had experience of this event, I've lived it… but Thomas did it so much faster than me, on a more demanding boat, and he was battling against a reference time that was a lot more difficult to reach! Thomas, words cannot express what you've just experienced, but you know… and you know that I know. I have the utmost respect for what you've just achieved. You're a hero."
DE KERSAUSON also paid tribute to the performance of his former crew on the victorious Jules Verne Trophy campaign in 1997: "It's the value of battles which counts; victories are the icing on the cake. After that it's down to fate and there are things you can't fight against. You can't fight against a hostile weather system. Multihulls are stressful boats to drive at high speed. There are no second chances. If a mistake leads to you flipping the boat over, it's really over. Given the time he achieved along the course with the weather he had, he really pulled out all the stops! That's the nobility of this sport. Nobody can be expected to do the impossible! I am all for commitment and I reckon that setting off on a multihull around the world is a fantastic thing, though it is risky, treacherous, dangerous, intelligent and aggressive. At the point where you've given something your all, you can't be sad about it. What Thomas did in the Atlantic is the result of real knowledge and a real mastery. Both he and his boat are capable of the record; they've had really unfavourable weather. It's not humiliating. Of course he'll have to start over again, but that's how things become more refined. That in no way prevents me from paying tribute to his fine sailing, especially given the hostile conditions."
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