Forced to abandon her race on 5 December following a violent collision with a floating object south of Cape Town two days earlier, Sam Davies has sailed back into Les Sables d’Olonne in beautiful spring sunshine to complete an inspirational round the world passage, fulfilling her pledge to complete the Vendée Globe route outside of the race rankings.
After arriving back off the Vendée coast late Friday night, the French-based English skipper took advantage of the time and the perfect conditions to scribe a giant heart shape with the course of her IMOCA 60 Initiatives Coeur that she sails in the colours of the organisation which raises money for heart surgery for youngsters from third world countries.
By continuing and completing the out-of-the race circumnavigation Davies maintained the huge public support for the Initiatives Coeur project, her efforts across the whole Vendée Globe circumnavigation project has raised enough money to fund over 100 surgeries.
Considered by many race experts to have had the potential to finish on the podium, the hugely experienced 46 year old Sam Davies was in great shape, among the leading peloton sailing at over 20 knots on the night of 2nd December when the collision occurred, her IMOCA Initiatives Coeur stopped instantly by the sudden impact which threw her across the inside of her boat, injuring her ribs.
Davies dealt with the huge disappointment as best she could her perfectly planned and executed four year campaign having been halted in an instant. But 36 hours later, when speaking in the sunshine in the shadow of Cape Town’s Table Mountain – wearing her typically broad smile – she pledged to return to sea and complete her solo voyage if her boat could be repaired and made safe.
“In my head the race was dead I had stopping sailing, I had retired, I already could picture myself at home wearing my little dress ready to pick up our 9-year-old son, Ruben, from school and being back to making food at home,” she told the media in South Africa.
“And then after 24 hours had passed in this decompression chamber where I needed to be saying to myself 'I'm quitting, I'm retiring'….well instead of that I changed my mind. I came to my senses.
“It is obvious finishing the course out of the race makes sense. Initiatives-Cœur is a solidarity project and that's what gives me the strength and the energy to start again.”
Round the clock work by her technical team, were supported by a posse of local Cape Town ocean racers who worked tirelessly to effect the necessary repairs, Davies was back on the water on December 14 ready to take on what has amounts to one of the biggest and toughest personal challenges of her 20 year professional sailing career.
On leaving Cape Town Davies said, “It is a new adventure. I am not used to sailing solo like this. I am super happy to be able to re-start.
“The main objective is to continue for Initiatives Coeur that is my main motivation. We have had some much help here and a lot, lot, lot of positive energy and support to send me on my way. I can see where the others are but that is not my objective to catch them, I am not putting myself under pressure to catch anyone.”
Sailing prudently to look after herself and her boat, the noted British yachtswoman has profited from the new and different challenge, often saying she has remained motivated through the hard times by the thinking of the work that the project does.
When she returned to the south Indian ocean, Davies was more than 800 miles behind Sébastien Destremau and Ari Huusela. She was in close contact with French skipper Destremau – who had constant technical problems – by the Kerguelen Islands.
By Cape Leeuwin, she was 80 miles from the Finnish skipper Huusela. She sailed most of the Pacific Ocean to Cape Horn close to Alexia Barrier and Huusela, rounding Cape Horn on 25 January.
While passing off the Brazilian coast, Davies reconnected with her long-time friend and rival, Isabelle Joschke, who is also returning to the course. Like Davies, it is outside of the rankings and rules after the Franco-German skipper had to abandon due to keel ram failures. The pair stay in close and regular contact, enjoying the safety and solidarity pursuing the same goal together until they arrive back in Les Sables d’Olonne.
Back in the north Atlantic in the north-easterly trade winds, Davies lost her forestay and with it her J2 headsail on the 11 February, her quick thinking saving her rig. But her approach was compromised still further, meaning she had to reduce speed at times.
Like Joschke yesterday, Davies returns to Les Sables d’Olonne, having achieved her own personal victory, completing her third round the world passage and for sure laying to rest some of the ghosts of a Vendée Globe disappointment which would doubtless have remained with her for years.
Before the start she said, “I have always promised myself that if there is one day that I get up and I don't want to go sailing and I am complaining, grumbling and that I am doing it just to make money, I'll stop and do something else. I love sailing so much, I really want it to be always a pleasure.”
And after finishing: “Over the past few years I’ve got more and more competitive and I’ve been lucky to have an amazing boat with an amazing team and had really close racing with Boris (Herrmann), Kevin (Escoffier), Isa (Joschke) and all that group who I was with until I had my crash.
Full story and Sam Davies press conference at: www.vendeeglobe.org/en/news