Ultims – Race update and Tuesday interview

At his current average speed, race leader Charles Caudrelier (Maxi Edmond de Rothschild) should pass Cape Leeuwin later tomorrow afternoon or evening. He has more than 1500 miles in hand over second placed Thomas Coville (Sodebo Ultim 3) who sailed 72 miles more than Caudrelier in the 24 hours to 1700hrs UTC today (see interview below) Armel Le Cléac’h (Banque Populaire XI) crossed the longitude of Cape of Good Hope at 09:39hrs UTC for an elapsed time of 15d 20h 59min 30secs. And Actual (Anthony Marchand) reported damage to the port foil after a high speed collision last night, but his team and the skipper confirm they will not make a stop. And Éric Péron makes good progress into the southern ocean on Adagio.

Thomas Coville: “It feels a bit like being on Apollo 13: you are all alone…..”

THE TUESDAY INTERVIEW (3). Thomas Coville makes a point of completing his answers in full, ensuring he takes a good few minutes, even when his Sodebo Ultim 3 is on one hell of a charge Every Tuesday of the ARKÉA ULTIM CHALLENGE-Brest, one skipper answers our questions, discusses the challenges they are facing on board and reflect on the sheer intensity of the race. After Charles Caudrelier and Tom Laperche, it is Thomas Coville who responds today, Tuesday.

Currently facing particularly tough conditions in the Indian Ocean, the skipper of Sodebo is showing his incredible resilience. He has an ability to put things into perspective, to take a step back. He talks of this unique fight, the resources he draws on and the talent that he demonstrates. Our conversation offers a small window into Coville’s commitment; the line cut several times but he always called back, finally completing the interview with extended, patiently dictated audio files.

Just like with everything in his career, Coville gives the impression that he wants to succeed in each and every mission, and gives his all, even when the mission is dangerous and seemingly against the odds.

Thomas, recently, you said that the Indian Ocean was the one you feared the most… is that the case now? 

Well, it is the ocean that mixes more different air masses. First, there is the cold air mass of Antarctica along the line between Cape Town and Cape Horn. On the other hand, there is the warm air that comes down from Africa, Madagascar and Reunion. We must go along this corridor affected by masses which are very different, which meet and generate violent and sometimes very erratic phenomena. Sometimes it takes different measures of opportunity, talent and luck like Charles (Caudrelier) has to cross the Indian Ocean remaining at the front of one front which was generated in South America….. but this is very rare. That doesn’t make us give up, we all know how long this course is!

Can you explain your current position?

Well, we have been behind a front for three days with heavy seas and very changeable winds.  I don’t really have “big seas”, only 3 to 4 meters of swell but it is very disturbed. I thought I could continue to stay at the same pace as Charles and Tom but the foil damage happened at the wrong time (of course there is never a good time). From now on, we must adapt to this rough sea, to these harsh conditions. And then there is this tropical storm which is forcing us to go north. We need a way out of that, we are not yet half way and so we really must remain humble. Right here, now we feel very small. And with our very big, complicated boats, we cannot let ourselves get carried away by the speed.

“Apart from the foil, I have a boat in great condition”

We learned on Sunday that you had suffered damage to your starboard foil lowering system..You said that you were confident in your ability to repair it?

I actually had this mechanical problem which prevented me from sailing with this foil and that made me lose contact with Charles and Tom. We had to secure the foil, work for several hours to work it out and evolve a system to repair it. The guys on land found a solution. I am lucky to have an extraordinary team. It feels a bit like being on Apollo 13: you are all alone, with a few tools, you have your hands, your brain and your energy. And so we have started a repair process which will require some calmer times. I work like a little ant, whenever I can. And I hope that this will allow me to regain the use of my starboard foil. It’s part of the “big and the small ups and downs” of a round the world sail.

What are the “small downs” on this tack?

You have to maintain the boat, pay attention to every little detail. Apart from the foil, I have a boat in great condition, I can still play hard with it and I enjoy being on board.

Exactly when do we feel the real pleasure on board?

It’s a matter of going round the globe. That pleasure might be mixed with frustration sometimes, it also comes from the happiness of having solved a problem, the collective energy, the drive you have to make it all work.  It’s such an immense pleasure when it all works. I completely dismantled a pump the other day. When it works again, you’re just super happy! It’s not a matter of Excel spreadsheet tick box pleasure, it’s much more complex, much stronger. These are situations that generate these little pleasures.

“Fragile, tired, hyper connected and super lucid”

What helps you hold on and keep pushing. In a video this morning, you spoke of the memory of your mum? 

Yes because she was so sweet and simple. She thrived on little things: going to the market, meeting people, treating herself to a bouquet of flowers, something simple. Sometimes I had trouble understanding why I was going to the southern oceans but somewhere I am looking for the same thing as her, this pure simplicity. This simplicity, this emotion is found in every step, every decision, an albatross that we encounter, a shaft of light, an acceleration on a wave. I  go forwards trying to win lots of small victories with the memory of this woman who continues to inspire me. I know it’s a little personal and intimate when you are in my state, you are fragile, tired but also hyper connected and super lucid.

How did you feel when you learned of the damage to Tom Laperche (SVR-Lazartigue)?

Every time there is a damage, you are never happy. You are worried all the time. You say to yourself “……and who will it be next?”  This concern, this trauma of damage is permanent and it is part of our life, of our career. I had a conversation with Tom (Laperche) when we weren’t far apart sailing far. He’s an incredible boy, he left his mark, he will leave his mark on his generation. His start to the race was exceptional. I’ve known him since I was little, so there were things that just didn’t surprise me and things that impressed me! His composure, his talent, his ability to be relaxed after the damage, it left an impression on me. He takes it all quite philosophically and he is right. He will do plenty of sails around the world.”

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Cyclops Marine
JPK August 2023
NAV at Home
Cyclops Marine