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One day out from Thomas Coville cracking the 50day barrier for a solo round the world voyage in Sodebo © Thomas Coville / Sodebo
One day out from Thomas Coville cracking the 50day barrier for a solo round the world voyage in Sodebo © Thomas Coville / Sodebo

49 Days Alone Around the World

At 16h 57mn 30s GMT this 25 December 2016, Thomas Coville crossed the finish line situated some six miles offshore of Le Créac’h lighthouse on the island of Ushant (Finistère), to complete the singlehanded round the world race against the clock under sail aboard a multihull, the large trimaran Sodebo Ultim’.

In so doing, he set a new singlehanded record in a time of 49 days 3 hours 7 minutes and 38 seconds (subject to approval by the WSSRC), improving on the previous record set by Francis Joyon by 8 days 10h 26 min and 28s. Thomas covered 28,400 miles at a remarkable average speed of 24.10 knots (52,596 kilometres at 44km/h).

In the half-light of the remains of a day obscured by a mist that totally enveloped the cliffs of the Breton island of Ushant, the 48-year old skipper put in two last gybes (change of tack with the wind on the stern, which is a manoeuvre as technical as it is physical) before finally enjoying deliverance. Right till the last, he drove his 31-metre long, 21-metre wide trimaran at an infernal pace, sparing no effort in maneuvering his massive boat as if he was sailing fully crewed. Along the way, the solo sailor secured the third best time around the world, whether it be contested in singlehanded or crewed configuration (1).

On 6 November 2016 at 13:49 GMT, Thomas set sail on his fifth attempt at breaking the record set by Francis Joyon in January 2008 of 57 days and 13 hours. This performance was quite simply exceptional at the time. The skipper of the trimaran Idec greatly improved on the record held up to that point by Briton, Ellen MacArthur. In fact, it’s worth noting that there are only three people in the world to have dared to attack the singlehanded, non-stop, unassisted round the world record aboard a multihull: Francis Joyon, Ellen MacArthur and Thomas Coville.

Thomas Coville cracks the 50day barrier for a solo round the world voyage in Sodebo © Thomas Coville / Sodebo

Thomas Coville cracks the 50day barrier for a solo round the world voyage in Sodebo © Thomas Coville / Sodebo

After seven weeks at a furious pace, Thomas Coville has pulled off a crazy gamble: singlehandedly driving his 31-metre long and 21-metre wide trimaran equipped with a 35-metre high mast carrying up to 680 square metres of sail area, to become the fastest man around the world in solo configuration.

In 2015-2016, the large trimarans Spindrift (ex-Banque Populaire) and IDEC Sport (ex-Groupama 3), made a bid for the Jules Verne Trophy (crewed round the world record) held by Loïck Peyron with a time of 45 days. Both managed to circumnavigate the globe in 47 days, but not being records, these times were not officially approved.

Thomas Coville will spend the night at sea with his shore crew, who joined him two hours after crossing the line. We contacted him by telephone. He told us about the minutes that follow the conclusion of such a feat:

The finish

‘Nobody was planning to sail a sub-50-day time in solo configuration. The finish is something that builds in you, something very dense. It’s a very weighty sensation that overwhelms you. I felt a sense of anguish about the final hours, of the final days, of hitting something and all that was putting pressure on me. All of this was combined with a great deal of fatigue. My sleep deprivation is very real.

It’s a very big day for me both as an athlete and as a man. I’m proud of the journey I’ve been on to get to this point. I’ve fallen, I’ve picked myself up and all that has given me this mental strength. Experience is what one does with one’s failures. I can say today that I’ve enhanced the value of them. That’s what I’m proud of.”

A colossal amount of work to get to this stage

“Forcing yourself to put in so many manoeuvres means that we’re not far off the crewed records. Sometimes I had blood in my mouth as I carried sails, which weigh 150kg and are full of water that you have to drag 10cm at a time on a moving trampoline. There were nights outside, laid out in the cockpit, in the cold with a sheet in your hand, ready to ease it if the boat flies a hull too high. It’s not a very elegant job, but it works. With the speeds you reach, you’re always on a razor’s edge. You have highs and lows. The South Atlantic was very hard. I managed to content myself with minor victories on a daily level. Physically, I cannot take it any further.”

And now?

‘Right now, I want just one thing: to sleep and let my mind rest. I want to go to sleep telling myself: All’s well!”

Patricia Brochard, Co-President of Sodebo:

Heading out to welcome the boat in and pay homage to Thomas Coville’s performance, Patricia Brochard, Co-President of Sodebo made no secret of her delight at the passage of the line: “I feel a great sense of relief and pride. I’m happy and it’s a happiness shared with Thomas’ teams, with his family, with the media and the team who take care of the communication.

I’m happy for the company and the employees. With this record, Thomas is highlighting the values that we all share together.

What’s beautiful is the journey you take to get here, everything that you put in place to build a story. The result is a consequence of this.’

by Sodebo Ultim

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