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Southern Spars - North Technology

Thomas Coville on Sodeb'Os North Atlantic crossing

by Kate Jennings translation on 16 Jul 2008
Water view for the first test sails of the 105 feet trimaran Sodeb’O, skipper Thomas Coville, arriving in Sydney Harbour. © Christophe Launay

Setting out from New York 5 days earlier, the French sailor Thomas Coville, the skipper of the trimaran Sodeb’O, beat the legendary solo North Atlantic record under sail on Tuesday 15th July at 07 hours, 17 minutes and 20 seconds; a record held since 2005 by Francis Joyon.

Francis Joyon’s time on Idec in 2005: 6 days 4 hours, 1 minute and 37 seconds

Thomas Coville’s time on Sodeb’O: 5 days, 19 hours, 29 minutes and 20 seconds (to be approved by the WSSRC)


Already the holder of the 24 hour distance record since January 2008, with 619.3 miles at an average of 25.8 knots, this latest victory is clearly not down to chance. At 40, this multihull specialist is a sailor with one of the largest number of miles single-handed under his belt, thanks to his racing background in the 60 foot class with a second place in The Transat 2004 and a fabulous podium finish in the Route du Rhum in 2006. Since 2005, the young sailor from La Trinité, father to two children, has been committed to his loyal sponsor Sodeb’O in a single-handed record programme, which enabled him to become successively the fastest man around the British Isles, between Spain and the Bahamas and between Miami and New York.

This single-handed North Atlantic crossing on a 32 metre multihull is an amazing achievement, particularly given that Thomas didn’t benefit from exceptional conditions as was the case for Play Station. The latter completed the crossing in crewed configuration in 2001 in a time of 4 days 17 hours along the direct route without ever performing a single change of tack. Favourable for the first three days, manageable and without surprises between the currents, fog and dense shipping, the weather conditions over the last 48 hours proved to be particularly testing and tactical for Thomas.

In order to get the boat making as much headway as possible, the skipper spent hour after hour at the helm, constantly trimming the sails 'which enables you to keep optimal balance and gain speed and comfort. In this way you are sparing on yourself as well as being sparing as regards the wear and tear on a boat under extreme stress'. Over the last 48 hours, Thomas thus performed a series of gybes (to change direction with the wind on the tail and move the sails from one side of the boat to the other): 'To gybe is not very difficult' explains the skipper, 'it takes 10 minutes but those 10 minutes are extremely stressful as you can’t afford to make a mistake. If the mainsail, which measures 227 square metres, switches to the other side of the boat too brutally, you break battens, you reduce the boat’s performance and therefore your chances of victory. At these speeds, the slightest mistake is fatal. The North Atlantic record is something a lot of people think about but few people achieve'.

This victory is something Thomas has had to hunt down. 'These records,' he continued an hour after crossing the line, 'are also stories and voyages which associate a sporting challenge with a human adventure. I was looking for scale. Through sailing I found a personal balance. I understand who I am. At sea, we are who we are, beneath the cover' concluded Thomas who admitted having been at 100% for 5 days, devoted to driving the boat 'almost slave-like', snatching two to three minutes of sleep here and there, that is around two hours in total for the first three days. That’s not to mention the last 48 hours during which I remained standing the whole time so as not to sit down and give it my all'.

For the skipper of Sodeb’O, this maxi-multihull which is also the largest boat built for a single man 'is a world, a dragonfly, a dream. This boat is a monster of technology, a dragonfly on the same scale as the sea, a dream of human proportions. It’s a guitar with tight strings, which works like a wind instrument. Inside it is monastic but concise, spatial and simple. Even if it’s a little pretentious, I would like everyone to look at this boat with the eyes of a child or an expert, and understand it. I want there to be no more questions, or if there are then solely those of the imagination'.

Designed by Nigel Irens and Benoît Cabaret, also the architects of Francis Joyon’s IDEC, the maxi-Sodeb’O has already traversed a fair amount of the world’s oceans. Built and launched in Australia in June 2007, this 32 m long three hulled machine (105 feet) and 16.55 m wide (55 feet) craft is equipped with a 35 m mast and can carry up to 650 square metres of sail area. Thomas, who has never hidden the fact that he is a fan of reliability, has not hesitated in racking up the miles since its launch. In order to benefit from the exceptional performance of his ‘dragonfly of the seas’ as much as possible and enable him to sail a succession of almost 600 mile days, he and his team have worked hard for the past 13 months, even making the boat nearly a ton lighter since its launch.

As for his partner Sodeb’O, which has been loyal for nearly 10 years, Patricia Brochard, co-president declared just a few minutes after the finish: 'Emotion has got the upperhand. We are proud. It’s a victory for freedom, commitment and generosity, values which are dear to Thomas and Sodeb’O. For the past 10 years, we’ve experienced highs and lows, and some difficult moments that we’ve got through together. Another word springs to mind, that of loyalty, the spirit of a family clan, which enables you to go ever further'.
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