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Thomas Coville, Sodebo Ultim 3, takes second place in the Arkéa Ultim Challenge - Brest

by Andi Robertson 29 Feb 08:05 PST 29 February 2024

Thomas Coville the French solo skipper of Sodebo Ultim 3 crossed the line off Brest to finish the ARKÉA ULTIM CHALLENGE-Brest at 13:42:40hrs UTC this Thursday afternoon, to take second place.

At 55 years of age, the sailor most widely known as 'the recordman', completed the ninth round the world passage of his career in an elapsed time of 53 days 1hr 12mins 40 seconds. On this first ever solo multihull race round the world in 32m ULTIM class giants, Coville finished just 2 days 6 hrs 4mins 48 secs behind winner Charles Caudrelier who arrived back in Brest on Tuesday morning.

This is Coville's seventh round the world on a multihull, his fifth singlehanded. The sailor, conclusively the most experienced in a multihull on this race, endured some of the worst weather conditions that any of the six skippers had, and also overcame number of technical problems, one of which required him to stopover for 2 days and 2 hours hours in Hobart, Tasmania. Along the way, Coville took time to tell his story with passion, emotion and clarity.

As a leading light of round the world multihull challenges Coville was one of the first to believe in this race and as always promoted it since its first genesis. Before setting off for the ARKEA ULTIM CHALLENGE-Brest, he spoke of a race that would "mark history" and how he had the feeling he and the other skippers were "pioneers." "We are going to find our share of pain, of self-sacrifice, of discovery. In a certain way, this is an expedition".

He left the dock in Brest on Sunday 7th January his eyes misty with tears, enjoying a warm hug with the race's youngest skipper, 26 year Tom Laperche whom he had taken sailing on his giant Sodebo when Laperche was eight years old. "Protect yourself with your courage." Coville told him as they left Brest/ Although Coville's oceanic race results in recent years on the boat have not matched those of rivals Maxi Edmond de Rothschild or even Maxi Banque Populaire XI, Coville was very much on the pace in the early days of the race, in the match from the first big depression and on the decent down to the Equator.

As he approaches the coast of Brazil he is trying to get into the same weather system as the two leaders, Charles Caudrelier and Tom Laperche but they escape as Coville has to repair, "It looks a bit like Apollo 13 here: you are all alone out here with a few tools, your hands and your brain, your energy and you work like a little ant."

Charles Caudrelier escaped on a system and extends to be over 2500 miles ahead of Coville whilst Laperche has to abandon into Cape Town. He really struggles to make good way in the Indian Ocean.

"I have corridor between air masses that come together, they collide and generate violent and erratic phenomena," he confides. "The weather systems are never really favorable." And, typical of the hard bitten, hard driving Coville he just redoubles his efforts and works harder. His body suffers, the boat also.

The skipper of Sodebo Ultim 3 and his team then decide he should stop in Tasmania to repair the main bow pulpit and the port side trampoline net which was damaged by impacts with the fierce seas. He returned to the race course two days later. His words were some of the most beautiful of his race, "Setting off again is like a heart starting to beat again".

In the Pacific he makes ground back on second placed Armel Le Cléac'h as the two match each other for speed.

"It is a privilege to have a match with Armel." says Coville at the time, he offers all who follow him from land his expressive words and thoughts. He is moved to tears after passing Cape Horn, he remarks: "For a long time we told ourselves that we must keep going because there is no one out here. It's hostile, wild, impressive and when we get here, we were let through."

And a few days later he says: "I always have the impression of having given everything I have in my guts."

At times Coville is given to reflecting on how he got to where he is in his remarkable career, paying tribute to those who have made him dream. He adapts, as he has always done, and enjoys following in the footsteps of the greatest. "Adapting is an integral part of our sport," he said a few days ago. "You want the fixing skills of Bernard Moitessier, the inventiveness of Yves Parlier, the self-sacrifice of Loïck Peyron."

And two days ago he made the winner smile: "Sorry Charles, I will not be able to be present when you finish I am doing the big tour of the Azores right now. But sincerely, humbly, a big congratulations."

Runner up Thomas Coville is not only a great, popular sailor, a seaman and adventurer, a super storyteller and an occasional handyman, but he is also a true humble gentleman at sea and on land.

Thomas Coville's race in figures:

  • Date and time of arrival: Thursday 02/29 at 13:42:40hrs UTC
  • Race time: 53d 1h 12m 40s
  • Delta to first position: 2d 6h 4m 58s
  • Miles traveled: 31,217.12 nms
  • Actual average speed: 24.52 kts

Follow the race tracking on www.arkeaultimchallengebrest.com/en

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