Solo sailor Samantha Davies is the second 'petite anglaise' to capture French hearts, as Elaine Bunting reports from the finish of the Vendée Globe
Girl power swept back into the French town of Les Sables d’Olonne this morning as Samantha Davies completed the 25,000-mile Vendée Globe race, cheered by thousands of supporters. In the style that has characterised her race and her personality she acknowledged her fans by smiling bashfully and kissing Foxy, her fluffy pink flamingo mascot, newly dressed in a little vest that stated: ‘We Love Sam’.
Here in France, Foxy Roxy is the big story after the masterful victory of Michel Desjoyeaux. Sam, 34, is the second ‘petite anglaise’ to capture the hearts of the public; eight years ago an even bigger phenomenon transformed the gamine 24-year-old Ellen MacArthur into an overnight superstar.
Sam – “Sam-an-ta!” they chanted – has charmed everyone in a different way. She is less intense than her predecessor, more obviously relaxed and she giggled her way round the world while Ellen was frequently reduced to tears. The comparison is often made, though, and it has probably shaped Sam’s naturally positive outlook, redoubling her steely determination to relish every moment at sea as a privilege.
Her worst times where when she heard about Yann Elies breaking his leg and rushed to assist him in the Southern Ocean, and when Jean Le Cam capsized a day west of Cape Horn. “That was really hard for me. That’s when you realise how fragile we are, how dangerous this race is and how many things are beyond our control,” she says.
Her daily logs were always buoyant. Asked by a French reporter if she had succumbed to tears at any point she said firmly: “No, it was my objective not to. Maybe in two days I will cry when I realise my race is done.”
When we asked if she had ever had any bad days when she wondered what she was doing out there, she giggled: “No! Because it’s an amazing opportunity. I always said to myself that if everything started feeling hard I’d remind myself that I was lucky Roxy had given me the opportunity to do this race and that three months is actually very short and you need to make the most of every day. I knew at the end I’d be sad if I had any regrets.”
The lowest point, she admitted, was when she was becalmed off the coast of Brazil on the way back up the Atlantic, watching her hard-won advantage bleed away over three deadly slow days. Yet even then she kept chipper. “I realised I was so lucky to still be out there racing, that you couldn’t complain and that there were a lot of other skippers out of the race who would have given anything to be in my position.”
Her boat Roxy, which as PRB won the last two Vendée Globe races, is outdated by modern standards but she has sailed a clever and often very fast race. Her diligent solo training over the last nine years in the Mini and Figaro classes mirrors the apprenticeships traditionally undertaken by the best French sailors and she was always Yachting World’s tip for the best British result should something happen to Mike Golding.
In the Southern Ocean, she intended to throttle back but could not help sailing Roxy fast. In the process she clocked up a day’s run the boat had never done before: an amazing 481-mile day. It was so remarkable that her mentor and friend Michel Desjoyeaux emailed from ahead to warn: ‘Be careful, my lady – you’ll burn the boat’.
But Sam’s chief objective was to get round safely and she’s done that perfectly. The mechanical failures that dogged other competitors never foxed Foxy Roxy; the boat was well-prepared and Sam is the most academically qualified in the fleet. She has a master’s degree from Cambridge in materials engineering and the experience to fix pretty much anything on board as soon as it gave trouble.
Today, “Sam-an-ta!” is taking her first few tentative steps as a celebrity, determined not to be deflected from her sailing career or subvert her wholly natural girl-next-door demeanour. “I’m not planning on changing me. I’m going to stay the same,” she said categorically.
Asked what she wanted most now, her answer was a shower, a big bathroom full of unctions, another beer, and time with her ‘darling’ – fellow solo sailor Romain Attanasio.
Try as they might with questions you just knew were mealy-mouthed substitutes for the ‘Are you going to do this again or get married and have babies?’ enquiry, the French journalists got nowhere. Sam blinked pleasantly, smiled and said charmingly that the Vendée Globe was part of her progression in sailing and there was more to come.