but announces his retirement from solo racing

Cheers and hoots of foghorns heralded Josh Hall’s arrival at the end of the Vendee Globe giving Les Sables d’Olonne harbour the atmosphere of Cup Final day, as his Open 60EBP Gartmore Investment Managerswas towed down the long entrance to the port. Race officials said it was the biggest crowd they had seen since the first finishers, Ellen MacArthur and Michel Desjoyeaux, arrived here almost two weeks ago.

Hall was the ninth skipper to finish the Vendee Globe and third British skipper, completing the 26,000 mile course in a time of 111 days 19 hours 48 minutes and 2 seconds. He said that until the finish he had been devastated as he had seen his position drop down the leaders board. In the race up the Atlantic Hall was overtaken by fellow British skipper Mike Golding, who had restarted the Vendee eight days late following a dismasting, and Swiss skipper Bernard Gallay with whom he used to sail on Robin Knox-Johnston’sBritish Airwayscatamaran. But on crossing the finishing line the naturally buoyant Hall said his frustration had evaporated. “The race fitted me like a hand fitting a glove. I fulfilled everything I wanted with it. Before I really cared about the position. Now I don’t care. It was a huge adventure, a wonderful, wonderful experience.”

His boat, a Groupe Finot design of the same vintage as Mike Golding’sTeam Group 4and Marc Thiercelin’s fourth placedActive Wear, looked in excellent shape as he finished. Indeed, Hall commented that he was surprised by how little had broken. However one suspects that Hall’s primary aim in this event was to finish – in the last Around Alone he had to withdrawn when his yacht dismasted in the Southern Ocean and in the BOC Challenge four years previously a collision with a container had sunk his boat and he had had to be rescued by fellow competitor Alan Nebauer. As a result he may not have been pushing as hard as some of the frontrunners.

Hall said that part of the reason for his slow progress had been encountering a lot of calms even in the Southern Ocean. “Not only is it very hard on the boat with all the gear slamming around, but you can’t sleep. You’re constantly trying to keep the boat moving at 1 or 2 knots and all the while you know the boats ahead are getting away and the ones behind are catching up. If you didn’t have it before the race, you certainly end up with a lot of patience!”

The most scary experience for Hall came in the Southern Ocean. He had dived deep into the south and had spotted five giant icebergs – all more than 1km long – yet only two had shown up on the radar. When night fell the sky was overcast and there was no moon, yet the boat was still smoking along at 18-20 knots. Hall said it had felt like playing Russian roulette, as running into a berg at that speed in that part of the ocean would have meant almost certain death. “Icebergs are impressive but they are the single most dangerous thing on these round the world races on solo boats where it is not possible to keep a look out 24 hours a day. I think ice belongs in vodka and tonic and nowhere else.”

At the press conference following his arrival Hall announced that he was giving up singlehanded sailing. “Yes, I know I say the same after every race. But I am 38. I want a change in my life. I’ve spent the last 15 years solo sailing and I love it. I’ve done the maximum, everything: the OSTAR, the BOC Challenge, Around Alone and now the Vendee. I love the races, but the stress is hard on my girlfriend, my family and kids. Now I want to sail with a crew on my boat.” Hall added that last night was very special for him as he realised it would be his last night at sea on a solo race. Fortunately it had been fantastic, an evening which for him summed up the Vendee Globe and his career in solo sailing. “It was typical with a big sea, strong wind and the boat flying along at 20 knots or more with me freezing in the cockpit, dodging the shipping.”