On Christmas Day the loop was closed on one of the most extraordinary sailing feats in modern history. The French sailor Thomas Coville set a new record for the fastest solo, non-stop circumnavigation of the globe and he not only broke the record, he absolutely slayed it knocking more than 8 days off the previous record held by fellow Frenchman Francis Joyon. That in itself is an amazing accomplishment but let’s just think about this for a moment or two. Coville sailed a 100-foot supertrimaran all by himself from France to France with a lap around Antarctica. He sailed in some of the most treacherous waters on the planet and managed to get back home unscathed; in record time.
His ride, sponsored by the French company Sodebo, has a mast that stands 115 feet off the deck. The mainsail is 3,050 square feet in area. The boat can average speeds in the high 20’s and low 30’s and can easily sail at 40 plus knots. I have been lucky enough to sail at 30 knots and I can tell you it’s a little terrifying. The noise and vibration that you experience at that kind of speed is unnerving but when you are with a full crew you can take some comfort in the company of others. But when you are sailing solo it’s you and you alone that has to deal with the stress.
Add to that, you know, and i am sure that he knew, that when things go wrong at that speed things go wrong quickly and the result can be life threatening. Can you imagine a sudden wind shift in the night when you are trying to get a 15 minute nap, and the boat accidentally gybes? Ok, I think you get the picture so let’s move on.
I have worked on two books about circumnavigation record attempts. My mate Cam Lewis was the lone American aboard Commodore Explorer when, in 1993, they became the first boat to lap the planet in under 80 days to win the Jules Verne trophy. Then in 2002 another mate Nick Moloney was aboard Orange when they set a new Jules Verne record. Their time was 64 days and their boat was a 110-foot catamaran. In the space of a decade they shaved 15 days off the record. The crew on Orange were some off the best sailors in the world and their record time was considered almost unbeatable. Fast forward to yesterday, Christmas Day. Thomas Coville crossed an imaginary finish line off Ile d’Ouessant on the north west coast of France to complete his circumnavigation in 49 days, 3 hours, 7 minutes and 38 seconds. Coville, alone, on a smaller boat, knocked 15 days off the time set but that crack team aboard Orange. Extraordinaire…
Much is being written about this accomplishment in the international press and I sincerely hope that they give a nod to his sponsor Sodebo. Sodebo is a food company in France that started out making and selling frozen pizzas. They have, of course, greatly expanded their product line to other foods but it was frozen pizzas that got them going. Around 2000 they started to look at sailing as a way to build brand recognition.
Yes sailing. Not soccer, not the Tour de France, but sailing. They did a talent search among the best French sailors and settled on Coville. I was following things back then and I was certain that they had chosen him because of his extremely good looks. The guy can flash a smile that drops undies in an instant but it turns out he could also sail.
He came sixth in the 2001/02 Vendee Globe beating some very good sailors. And so began a partnership that has stretched almost two decades. Thomas Coville has risen to become one of the best sailors in the world and along the way quadrupled the size of Sodebo. That too is extraordinary and I salute the sponsor for standing by their man and I salute Coville for catapulting the Sodebo brand into one of France’s biggest food suppliers.
To wrap this up I would like to congratulate Thomas on an amazing adventure and accomplishment. I know the size of the boat having sailed a catamaran that large. I know the waters he sailed having circumnavigated a few times. To take that boat through those waters is nothing short of extraordinary. Take it from me. This is probably the biggest sailing feats in modern history and he has made it extremely difficult for others to beat.
And better yet he made it look easy. I remember a line from Cam Lewis’s book when they finally crossed the finish line where Cam said they he finally exhaled and noticed for the first time that he had been holding his breath for 79 days. I wonder how Coville felt when he crossed the finish. I am sure that he too exhaled. – Brian Hancock. Pictures thanks to Christoper Launay.