French skipper Thomas COVILLE explains the sequence of events that saw him better the solo 24 hour distance record moments before having to call an end to his round the world record attempt.
At 00:45 UTC on 6 January, with 619.3nm (1,115km) covered at an average of 25.8 knots, Thomas COVILLE on Sodeb'O beat the single-handed 24 hour distance record, subject to ratification by the World Sailing Speed Record Council (WSSRC). He beat distance of 616.03nm set by Francis JOYON (FRA) on 10-11 December 2007 (also subject to ratification by the WSSRC). Before these two single-handed sailors set out on their respective solo round the world record attempts, the solo 24 hour distance record stood at 610.45 nm, set by Yvan BOURGNON (FRA) on Brossard in August 2006.
COVILLE beat the record during his 20th day at sea, as did JOYON, and in the same zone of the Indian Ocean between the Cape of Good Hope and the Kerguelen Islands. The two skippers were also in a fairly similar weather pattern, ahead of a depression.
Just five minutes after beating the record, at 00:50 UTC, COVILLE climbed up on deck to reduce the sail when he noticed, with the boat's change of behaviour, that the crash box on the starboard float had been pulled out. The extreme section of the float bow, the crash box serves as a fuse in the event of impact and it is designed to come apart in the event of impact in order to prevent the float itself from exploding.
COVILLE realized in a fraction of a second that his solo record attempt around the world was over. His average speed had only increased over the past few hours and, without this damage, he looked set to improve the 24 hour distance record even further.
Speaking from onboard Sodeb'O yesterday, COVILLE explained the sequence of events and his reaction to the end of his record attempt.
"I had just received the news that I had established a new 24 hour record when I felt the boat slow,"
he said. "I immediately went up on deck and I saw a plume of water, which was 3 metres above the starboard float. I eased the headsails. In a matter of seconds, you understand what's happening without knowing how. Given the urgency I dropped the sails to control the situation. I don't know what happened. A few moments later, I saw a piece of ice, but I think the impact would have been more severe, more violent if I'd hit ice. In this instance I remained on the netting, arms dangling, concentrated on the action even though part of me is very disappointed. The whole adventure races through your mind: what you have done and what you won't do. Twenty days of racing! It's like a scene from a tragedy! As I virtually haven't slept for three days, I tried, in vain to do so initially. I ended up sinking into sleep eventually though. When I awoke, it was broad daylight and I wondered whether it wasn't simply a nightmare. The beautiful bird is indeed here though, injured.
"I'm midway between the Kerguelen Islands and South Africa in the middle of nowhere. I'm heading for Cape Town and then we'll return to Les Sables d'Olonne.
"It's a committed project and therefore very exposed. I accept this retirement because that's all part of the rules of the game. I got a great deal of pleasure from sailing on this boat. The more it went on, the more liberated I felt in this part of the globe where one can simply be tolerated; I felt as one with the environment. The competitor inside me is clearly disappointed. It'll take me some time to analyse all this. I am keen to return to this as I feel too much bitterness about the fact that this has ended so soon."
The desire to return here is shared by his partner, since Sodeb'O has confirmed its support of COVILLE: "This round the world forms part of an extreme project. A number of people have had a go at it. Thomas showed great panache in his attempt. There will be other opportunities. As soon as he's ready, we'll set out with him"
Patricia BROCHARD, co-president of Sodeb'O stated yesterday morning.
This infamous round the world is a difficult undertaking.
Since Philippe MONNET (FRA) made the first attempt in 1988 to complete a circumnavigation in a multihull without stopovers just 20 years ago, 20 or so single-handed and crewed attempts have followed one after the other. Of these 20 or so attempts, the majority of them have been forced to retire through damage.
Peter BLAKE (NZL), Olivier DE KERSAUSON (FRA), Ellen MACARTHUR (GBR) and Bruno PEYRON (FRA) have all of had to give up or make numerous attempts to beat the legendary solo round the world record. To date, just two sailors in the history of sailing have managed this single-handed circumnavigation in a multihull without stopovers, MACARTHUR and Francis JOYON (FRA).
JOYON, himself now over 40 days into his second solo round the world record attempt and looking well set to better the current record time of MACARTHUR, was disappointed to hear the news coming from his rival.
"Firstly, as tradition dictates, I'd like to congratulate Thomas on having taken the 24 hour record from me, which goes to show the potential of his boat and his desire to express himself in these difficult latitudes,"
JOYON said yesterday. "As for the damage aboard Sodeb'O, damage which forces a skipper to retire from such a long, difficult voyage, it's something which haunts all round the world sailors. I imagine that Thomas must feel frustrated, and personally I am disappointed to have lost a competitor and the sporting motivation that this represents."
The Record To Beat
Record: Longest Distance Run in 24 Hours, Singlehanded
Skipper: Yvan BOURGNON (FRA)
Dates: 6-7 August 2006
Distance: 610.45 nm
Average Speed: 25.76 knots
The Record To Beat
Record: Round the World, non-stop, singlehanded
Skipper: Ellen MACATHUR (GBR)
Dates: 28 November 2004-7 February 2005
Elapsed time: 71 days, 14 hours, 18 minutes and 33 seconds
Distance: 21,760 nm
Average Speed: 12.66 knots
Trimaran Sodeb'O - www.sodebo-voile.com
World Sailing Speed Record Council - www.sailspeedrecords.com