For Sodebo, It was a remarkable moment this evening in La Trinitésur Mer, SW Brittany.
The day was drawing to a close as the big trimaran’s starboard float, with the bow stripped back, slowly drew alongside the Quai des pêcheurs. 'When you see her here, you say to yourself that ultimately it’s a simple feat,' commented the sailor as he stood looking from the pontoon at 'this boat which was my companion for 60 days. You often transfer human qualities onto her but when you’re faraway, she is synonymous with your shelter, your survival, above all else.'
A few minutes earlier, the skipper had raised his head, looking at the crowds along the quay. With tears in his eyes, he exchanged glances with the anonymous faces, who had come to listen to what the sailor had to say on his return from a two month solo circumnavigation of the globe. He accepted the ritual champagne, even though he admitted that 'this is really something that is reserved for victories.'
The cork wouldn’t budge and ended up being cut with a knife; the same knife the skipper had with him aboard at all times. 'This is for those who attempt things… in life you have to attempt things guys!' he proclaimed to those who had gathered at sunset to see him in.
He sprayed the support team and took a mouthful before giving the bottle to the members of his team and to this Sodebo family which is there, always, loyal and moved. The sailor then takes the microphone: 'When we arrived off Ushant this morning, the timekeeper hadn’t even seen me. It was me that gave him the final time,' he began.
'On arriving at Trého earlier (the section that precedes the entrance to the channel into La Trinité), it was like an Etch-a-Sketch, you know, the kids’ toy where you can do some doodling and then erase the whole lot with a sweep of the stylus! It suddenly takes you right back to scratch.
Today, that Etch-a-Sketch is you! It’s also my wife, my kids, this Sodebo family, this business with whom we’ve built this adventure. There’s a major human element in all this. Even though I’m showing off in front of you, I’m a competitor at heart and this hurts'.
Then Tom starts out from the beginning again. He tells of Saint Helena and the moment when he considered returning home, then the beat up towards Kerguelen, saying that 'going there close-hauled is crazy'. Naturally he recalls the tack beneath the ice zone as being down to 'my pride… even if those routes are there, you shouldn’t take them.' The voices grow louder, haranguing the sailor, who in turn replies simply, straight out.
In what is now a dark night, the atmosphere is almost reminiscent of a comfortable living room where tales of the sea are told by the fireside. A voice asks, 'and the moment where you buried all three bows at Ushant?!' 'Ahhh, there, if you turn back at Ushant, you’re certainly going to look like an idiot!
But I also recall another moment of ‘free-styling’, where the boat reared up till she was completely bolt upright. I was standing on the winch pedestal and there, deep in the South Atlantic, if you turn back, you don’t looklike an idiot, you’re just in a very awkward situation.'
So, yes then, 'you have to accept the law of Mother Nature as the Anglo-Saxons say. She didn’t want to give me this record, but I’m here this evening so I reckon she’s been kind to let me return. She didn’t keep me.'
After struggling to better ‘the perfect course traced by Francis Joyon' for the third time, the skipper of Sodebo tonight paid homage to the sailor who remains the fastest man around the world, singlehanded aboard a sailboat. 'I haven’t beaten the record set by a very great gentleman! A sportsman’s main focus is to be an athlete, to respect your adversary and to respect this reference time, which was set by an exceptional man who goes by the name of Francis Joyon.
I think that perhaps I am one of the only people to respect his true value because I’ve played with him and against time. This guy, who slogged it out for years to attempt this record, I saw him here in La Trinité. The exceptional guys are those who are in the right place at the right time, and this gentleman performed a perfect circumnavigation of the globe. This evening, I’d like to pass on my hearty congratulations to Francis Joyon.'
He then turns to Alain Gautier, on the dock: 'Alain made me want to do this. Every time he climbs onto a boat, he beams from ear to ear and that’s lasted 30 years! He made me want to do this when he won the Vendée Globe on Bagage Superior (1992). It was the most fabulous smile I’d ever seen. This guy with his arms raised heavenwards… I said to myself 'one day, I want to feel how that feels!'
Another voice shouts out 'Next time Tom!' The sailor replies that 'it would be arrogant to look at you here and tell you that I’ll make another attempt at it. Today, it’s such a commitment that I can’t answer you now.'
Find all the latest about the maxi-trimaran Sodebo on the website www.sodebo-voile.com