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bpv: the arrival experience

being there

bpv: the arrival experience

Lia Ditton was there when Banque Populaire V completed their phenomenal journey. Photo thanks to Christophe Launay – more here.

The blue ink of the night sky had drained away only by the end of the rib ride out into the Rade de Brest. Driving into the drizzle was wet and cold; the seas unkempt sloshed over the rubber tubes as media men and women zipped their cameras into foul weather gear tops. Eventually the boat slowed. Ahead, an etch of the maxi-trimaran ‘Banque Populaire V’ had just come into view. Bruno Peyron jumped ship from another rib and stood smoking at the back beside his lover, the very beautiful artist/photographer Stephanie Billarant.

The welcome armada was led by a sailing boat flying an asym’ in order to keep pace. Double-decker spectator boats listed precariously in the following seas as jet skis and weekend cruisers and motorboats big and small surged around the three-hulled stern.

On the port trampoline 14 men in yellow Musto outfits jumped around, until hoots and applause prompted arms to be raised in celebratory salute. With the dock less than half a mile away, boyish grins bore the emotions of relief, joy and wonder. They had done it! The Jules Verne record ‘smashed!’

Tall Brit Brian Thompson, who now adds a fourth non-stop round-the-world circumnavigation to add to his resume, led the flare display. A plug whooshed out of one firework and then two and suddenly the line-up of record-breaking sailors was framed by two pinkish orbs of brilliant light: a photographer’s dream. “Encore! Encore!” came the cries as a helicopter beat low overhead with Thierry Martinez hanging out of the door. In the pulpit, each crew member in turn raised the flare like an Olympic torch, flanked behind by his team mates, his brothers in record-setting sailing. This was the media circus in full dance.

As the rib was driven round for other perspectives, the three bows, head on shots and starboard angles, the sheer size of BPV was awe-inspiring. The freeboard! The beam! The rake of the mast! Her lines just went on and on and up and up, the figures of 14 mortals on the bow, at times nearly eclipsed by the stretch of the crossbeams.

Back onshore, several thousand heads created a rim of black dots along an otherwise grey concrete wall. At the harbor mouth the spectator fleet raced back to the dock for the dockside arrival as the trimaran turned into the wind to put in a final reef and roll the staysail away. More bodies began to file onto the breakwater promenade until the wall was peppered without gaps, all the way along. BPV rounded the corner with a roar of cheering that rolled along like a Mexican wave. More flares but this time the yellow men were dancing, bouncing up and down, waving them!

Alongside the pontoon, blue fender pads in place, champagne jetted up and was sprayed in arcs and dumped on watch-mate’s heads. Their journey through oceans and ice fields, observing stars and cosmic wonders; their journey of 45 days, 13 hours, 42 minutes and 53 seconds of perpetual motion at speed – 30.51mph (26.51 knots) was finally drawing to a close. Families embraced, children kissed, the sailors came off the boat as heroes and when they made it on stage sometime later, the crowd was so dense it nearly swept you off your feet. To the French, Loick Peyron and his crew aren’t offshore sailors. They are race boat drivers!