Jan 29, 2011
OFF ON THE GRAND SOLO CIRCUMNAVIGATION
A week after Pascal Bid?gorry?s crew set off on the Jules Verne Trophy, it?s over to Thomas Coville to head off to attack the rather different ?solo? round the world record aboard Sodebo. The skipper left the pontoon in Brest?s Port du Ch?teau shortly before 0800 UTC to cross the start line off Ushant, in front of Le Cr?ac?h lighthouse, by late morning. His aim: to return to the same spot in under 57 days, 13 hours, 34 minutes and 6 seconds, the reference time set by Francis Joyon (Idec) in January 2008. The skipper has set off with "a good weather window for solo sailing and feels a sense of liberation at having taken the decision to set off. I?ve nurtured this moment for years. I?m heading off on this because I want to. The emotion stems from extracting yourself, making the switch from a landlubber to a sailor?.
Conditions at the start promise to be lively with a 25 knot NE?ly wind followed by fairly steep seas in the Bay of Biscay. If the forecasts are confirmed, the skipper could hold onto the NNE?ly air flow for a considerable time and even as far as the equator. As such, on the computer, Sodebo?s schedule is rather favourable. ?This decision to set off was an easy one to make given the stability of the weather conditions?, admitted the Solo Atlantic record holder on the eve of his third round the world record attempt on this boat. ?The weather models have been in agreement for several days and if conditions remain ?vigorous?, the situation enables a quick and easy descent to the equator, which I could cross in about 7 days, which isn?t bad.?
Heading off again, the first victory
Since circumnavigating the globe alone aboard this same multihull (winter 2008/2009) when the record escaped his clutches by a little under two days, Thomas has gone on to win the crewed Jules Verne Trophy with Franck Cammas? Groupama 3 (March 2010). He has also finished third in the Route du Rhum at the helm of Sodebo and completed a number of transatlantic crossings on this 32 metre trimaran which he has been constantly developing. ?We built and designed Sodebo nearly three and a half years ago. We?re coming to maturity with this boat and the understanding I can have of it. Setting off tomorrow after having worked so hard is like a deliverance. I?m keen to make the most of what we?ve done. I also feel relieved of the weight of being able to get going on this as there are some winters that don?t have the perfect departure slot. Linking on from the Route du Rhum and the round the world with good weather conditions to set off in means that we?ve pulled off the first stage.?
"I know where I?m setting foot"
?When you set off for the first time, you have to begin by answering the question: ?Am I capable of doing it?? ?Having completed an initial solo round the world aboard a multihull allows me to know what you have to give of yourself and how; it?s a lever which inspires me to return to it. It?s up to me now to complete it in less time. In our various projects, we make attempts, we fail and we work so we can set out again. I could have moped about it and never returned to it, but I?m lucky enough to be able to do it and that?s how you give yourself the means to write some great stories.?
Last night ashore
At dinner time last night, the skipper of Sodebo admitted: ?For the time being I?m busy retranscribing the figures for the routing and the strength or direction of the wind, in terms of man?uvres and the way Sodebo handles. I?m not yet thinking about my life aboard. I?m going to have to extract myself and that?s a delicate moment. I?m a father, a friend, I have a social and sentimental life and I have to suddenly enter into another world. I don?t know another exercise which requires 57 days of concentration. However, this evening, as long as I?m not kitted out in my boots and foulies, I?m still a landlubber.?
In Brest last night, his family, his friends, his team and of course his sponsor, rallied around him, but now Thomas is alone, alone for nearly two months. In an arctic cold, he?ll take up again with the stress of the multihull, which won?t leave him for eight weeks.
Saturday 26 February 2011
Attacking the pacific
After 28 days at sea and now at the midway point in his race against the clock, Tom looks back at his descent of the Atlantic and his passage across the Indian Ocean. On entering the Pacific ?which is never as pacific as all that?, the skipper of Sodebo is beginning the next section of his planetary voyage.
A man and a boat in tip-top condition
At the midway point, the skipper confirms that physically he?s at the peak of fitness: ?I?m amazed? he admits today, ?to feel this fresh. I?m not limiting myself. I don?t have to choose to do one course or the other?. The same is true for the boat ?even though I carry out a few jobs here and there on a daily basis, notably at the equator when I broke three battens?. Excellent news then as the skipper of SODEBO made his entrance into the Pacific on Friday. Ahead of him and prior to the liberation represented by rounding Cape Horn, potentially ten days away, the big test consists of going around the Antarctic continent.
Battling against time is one thing. For Tom, this virtual adversary, who never stops, is competing in a psychological war he?s trying to escape. With a deficit of around two days in relation to the reference time set by Francis Joyon, who two years ago traced a cheeky and exemplary course, the skipper of Sodebo knows the frustration of being faster across the water and yet behind on the content.
Fully focused for the past 28 days and sailing at an extreme standard since leaving Brest, Thomas is continuing to attack ?whilst trying to strike a balance on a daily level and keeping to the same pace day after day of around 20 knots, and the same output with about the same number of miles each day, namely around 500?.
The scale of a voyage
?But what?s he looking for down there?? wondered Joseph and Simone Bougro today, founders of Sodebo, whilst listening to Thomas saying that for him ?each day is a new day?. Even though he?s making a reference to Ulysses, his trip is light years away from mere wanderings. There are neither lotus-eaters, Cyclops nor mermaids in the world of the energy-boosted multihull. Indeed the skipper of modern times has a very different tale to tell of this great voyage across the oceans between Brest and Tasmania.
?It?s been a voyage full of man?uvres, which really began with a battle at the equator against a cloud it was imperative to extract ourselves from?. After this cloud, Tom recalls something a little further down, in the middle of the South Atlantic ?a decision by Richard (Richard Silvani of Météo France), who made me luff and slip along on a tiny vein of breeze so I could start heading East?. After the Cape of Good Hope, he came close to hanging a left, so angry was he at having fought so hellishly hard against Saint Helena and still having to endure a two day deficit in relation to the record. Continuing on past the Kerguelen archipelago he recalls ?a conversation via VHF with fishermen from the Ile d?Yeu. We were in the middle of nowhere in the Indian Ocean and we were sailing within sight of each other?. Next on the agenda was a rolling wind, a kind of katabatic wind, which hit him full on just after Heard Island, creating some incredibly turbulent times.
Ahead of him, on course towards his 6th round the world and his third circumnavigation in solo configuration, and even though he?s taking things one step at a time, the 43 year old skipper doesn?t have his eyes closed to what awaits him: ?Though the Indian Ocean is demanding and violent, though it?s a jackal which goes for your throat and commits you to a hand-to-hand fight, the Pacific comes after the Atlantic and the Indian and is both long and wearing?, explains the skipper. And he knows what he?s talking about as he makes headway in the pitch black conditions, without stars or moon, at an average speed of 25 knots on a course of 120 degrees on a boat where tension and concentration are matters for survival. ?Indeed that?s the aim and appeal of the exercise? admits the skipper, who nevertheless recognises that ?this permanent state of alert and this level of stress are hard to handle for over two months?.
My friend the pilot
Aboard, Tom has a friend who wishes him well but sometimes loses his head.
Though he?s made good progress as regards getting refuelled, ?which enables me not to be hypoglycaemic and hold out physically?, the skipper of Sodebo admits that he?s disappointed by his friend the pilot. ?If he doesn?t stick with me, I?m in danger. Psychologically it?s hard not to be wary of him when I?m moving around the boat or sleeping?. In fact, Tom and his team have been working on the automatic pilot system for the past three years, as it?s a key subject for a solo sailor. The result isn?t as perfect as the Breton sailor might wish and ?at times you feel like you?re sailing over eggs with bent steering?. For some days, his onshore team have been dissecting and deciphering the recordings he?s been sending from the Antipodes. This unremitting effort is bearing fruit because, by modifying the trim, Tom?s friend the pilot hasn?t been swerving about quite so much. It has to be said though that yesterday, to celebrate their exit from the Indian Ocean, the boat broached under pilot. In solo configuration, this is serious and wearing when you have to get everything back in the right direction before tidying everything up and then the same thing happens three times in a row?
On route towards Cape Horn, there are a few brutes to keep an eye on seemingly.
Ahead of him is strong, steady wind, which will require a great deal of effort. For Tom, that means man?uvres and hence sail changes, ?huge sails which weigh more than me?. Indeed the solo sailor is entering some testing latitudes where his boat will go very fast in some very heavy seas. ?At these latitudes, the phenomena move quickly and they are massive in scale. They are violent masses of air and water that nothing can stop. At these latitudes, you sail in systems which are on a par with cyclones in terms of scale?.
And then in the circumnavigation of Antarctica, there has been some ice pinpointed by CLS Argos, which has been working on the subject with Tom and his team this year: ?It?s a new aspect to racing which enables us to manage the risk. Knowing about it is no less harrowing, but it?s simply less idiotic? concludes the skipper before returning to the deck to furl in the gennaker and hoist the solent in the pitch black of the Pacific.
Tuesday 8 March 2011
"CAPE HORN IS A GIFT FROM ABOVE" for the skipper of SODEBO
“It’s incredible. I’m rounding the Horn with you. I’m with Neutrogena (Editor’s note: one of the monohulls from the Barcelona World Race) which is just 50 metres from me! It’s the first time I’ve passed so close to the Horn. I’m 200 metres away”. It is exactly 1124 GMT, early morning at Cape Horn, as Thomas Coville announces mid audio link-up that he’s passing the longitude of Cape Horn live.
An emotion tinged with excitement
Just a few hours ago, the solo sailor was tackling a storm; a real squall with 6 to 8 metre waves and wind gusting to 50 knots: “At times like that,” admitted Tom, “You feel very small I can tell you.” It was night and using his instinct alone, he put a third reef in the mainsail. “Nothing was forcing me to do it” he explains. Doubtless this is the survival instinct and experience that is kicking in above all else.
Indeed all those who sail around the world confirm it: though the Pacific is the largest ocean in the world, it’s also the most fearsome with its violent winds that never let up as they circle the Antarctic accompanied by ferocious waves picked up by ocean trenches measuring over 10,000 metres.
Named in this way in the 16th century by a certain Magellan, who clearly encountered some calms, the South Pacific is more reminiscent of a minefield for ocean racers who have just one desire: to get out of it as fast as they can! This was case today for the skipper of Sodebo, who quite rightly referred to the scorpion-shaped tip of South America as “the Cape of Good Deliverance”.
In fact you can hear the relief of the skipper who is leaving the hostile waters of the Pacific. “At times like that, you become amnesic. You forget your suffering and the very hard fought course where you’re always on a razor’s edge”.
Live with FRANCK CAMMAS
And then thanks to the miracles of telecommunications, Thomas links up with Franck Cammas, he too at sea in the Bay of Biscay, training aboard his VOR 70. Together they remember the Cape Horn as it was when they rounded the headland on 4 March 2010, barely a year ago. They recall the climb up the Atlantic and the acceptable conditions that the skipper of Sodebo is likely to encounter, at the start at least “with some upwind conditions initially, weaving in and out to negotiate the zone of high pressure and hunt down the tradewinds”. And then the solo sailor pours out his feelings about sailing singlehanded, recognising that he often thinks about the experience of sailing as a 10 man crew aboard a multihull, and that he is sometimes regrets that he doesn’t have an extra pair of hands aboard to help him. “What I’m attempting belongs to the extreme element” he admits.
At that point he tells of a big flock of birds which are accompanying him like an indication of civilisation as he goes around “this rock; a big rock with its hill and its pastures dropping right down to the sea like the bow of a boat”. Having just spent 38 days without seeing an ounce of land the skipper decides to “dedicate Cape Horn to all those who have a project in their head or in their heart,” advising them to “go for it even if it seems crazy.”
Up against the clock
Concentrated for the past 38 days, or over 5 weeks, on the exceptional reference time achieved by Francis Joyon in 2008, the skipper of Sodebo is racking up the miles with extra-terrestrial consistency. Setting out from Brest on Saturday 29 January, Thomas Coville has already clocked up 19,186 miles, which he’s covered at an average speed of 21.03 knots. The solo sailor aboard Sodebo is rocketing across the oceans with a target average speed of 20 knots. He has 7,000 miles to go as the crow flies between the Horn and Brest. Working furiously to stay in the present, forcing himself to focus on his speed and “avoid getting annoyed by going over the same scenario over and over again”, he tries to stand up to the pressure of the clock which keeps on ticking. However, being a competitor at heart, he surely knows that he has 19 days, 13 hours, 16 minutes and 34 seconds ahead of him to beat the solo round the world record which stands at 57 days, 13 hours, 34 minutes and 06 seconds.
When heading into battle with the Pacific, Tom set himself the objective of having a deficit of less than 1,000 miles at Cape Horn before taking on the climb up the Atlantic in psychologically more comfortable conditions than he had four years ago, where he had a deficit of 4 days. On crossing the longitude of Cape Horn today, Tuesday 8 March, he had a deficit of 687 miles in relation to Idec. As such he still has everything to play for. Francis Joyon had to slow down the other side of Cape Horn to repair his boat. Thomas’ boat is apparently in perfect condition with the exception of two mainsail battens which were snapped in a broach a few days ago. As regards the physical challenge represented by the 7,000 miles left to go, this doesn’t seen to be a concern for the skipper of Sodebo.
Press release – Thursday 10 March 2011
SETBACK ABOARD SODEBO
At 1540 GMT, Thomas Coville was involved in a collision with no direct impact on the boat’s ability to make headway. When he went up on deck to assess the situation, he discovered that the skin of the crash box at the front of the starboard float had come away, doubtless as a result of colliding with a pilot whale. A crash box is a sacrificial bow whose role is similar to that of a bumper on a car.
Sodebo’s shore crew has assessed the damage on shore after studying the photo which Thomas sent out immediately after the incident and the structural integrity of the float has been preserved. Though it’s impossible today to gauge the impact on the trimaran’s performance for the rest of the course, Thomas Coville is continuing on his way as before.
Currently sailing on port tack at a speed of 18/20 knots, Sodebo will switch to a starboard tack in a couple of days’ time in an easing wind. On this same tack, which he is set to stay on till at least the North of Brazil, the windward float, namely the one that is damaged, will thus remain clear of the water.
In 30 knots of NW’ly breeze, the trimaran is making headway close on the NE’ly wind off the Falkland Islands with two reefs in the mainsail and ORC jib. At 1400 GMT, his deficit in relation to Francis Joyon’s course had dropped to below 500 miles.