It’s his fourth painful bid to break the most punishing and elevated of all sailing records
Never give up. That must be the motto painfully etched in Thomas Coville’s mind as he sets off today on his fourth attempt to break the solo round the world record. He left Brest today in his 105ft trimaran Sodeb’O in a bid to better the amazing time set round the world in 2008 by Francis Joyon: a seemingly unrepeatable 57 days 13 hours.
This record is the most punishing and elevated of all, and Coville’s attempts at it span a heart-rending nine-year catalogue of disappointments and failure. His three challenges have all ended in failure. The worst part of it is that he twice sailed all the way round the world – two intensely stressful months at sea – only to (just) miss the record time.
On his first attempt in 2008, the same year Joyon set his superb record, the crash box of Coville’s theoretically faster trimaran was damaged in a collision, possibly with ice, and he had to retire.
In his second attempt, he endured some quite hair-raising times, including one occasion in the Southern Ocean when, overcanvassed for a squall, his boat lifted up onto one float and set off blindly on a huge surf. Coville was on the point of retreating to the cabin, the only place he’d be sure to survive a capsize, when the boat sat back down, picked up on another surf, and a piece of the traveller whistled by, decapitating both carbon wheels.
He went on to battle up through the Atlantic, only to finish 2 days outside Joyon’s record.
When he tried again in 2011, he again suffered in the Southern Ocean, rounded Cape Horn some 800 miles behind the record time (potentially less than a day-and-a-half in such a yacht) and had no better luck in the Atlantic. Once again, he finished in Brest a couple of days outside the record. It was so close, and had cost him so much emotionally and physically, that on crossing the line he quite understandably broke down in tears and was inconsolable.
In the meantime, he has bolstered himself by joining Franck Cammas’ Groupama 3, which went on to win the last Volvo Ocean Race. This has steeled him for another go at this witheringly punitive ambition.
His record should be fascinating to follow. Whereas Joyon tends to communicate very little – the ironman single-hander has a very stiff upper lip and a talent for understatement, so we never heard about any perilously close shaves, if any – Coville is of the Ellen MacArthur mould, letting it all hang out, and then some. Or to put it another way, he tells it like it really is.
Sadly, the Sodeb’O website isn’t published in English, but you’ll get the gist here.