Vendee Globe: First female finisher Clarisse Cremer breaks solo non-stop monohull world record

Clarisse Cremer gives the thumbs up to her record breaking run in the Vendee Globe - Olivier-Blanchet/Alea pic
Clarisse Cremer gives the thumbs up to her record breaking run in the Vendee Globe - Olivier-Blanchet/Alea pic

Following  a prudent, careful passage across a boisterous Bay of Biscay, negotiating one last stormy low pressure, a triumphant Clarisse Cremer became the first woman to cross the finish line of the ninth Vendée Globe at 15:44:25 hrs UTC, to take an excellent 12th place on Banque Populaire X from 33 starters.

Cremer finished in late afternoon Vendée sunshine and a diminishing westerly wind of 20 knots with 4-5 metre seas. Her elapsed time of 87 days 02 hours and 24 minutes breaks Ellen MacArthur's 21 year-old monohull solo non-stop record for a female skipper of 94 days 4 hours, which she set when she took second in the 2000-2001 Vendée Globe.

But Cremer played down her ranking as first female to finish, “For me, yes we know that being a woman in ocean racing becomes a differentiator on land. But this is a mixed race and a mixed sport and it about the breadth of ocean racing together. There is no female classification. At sea, I am a sailor, and I don't tell myself that the sailor in front is a man or a woman, I don't think about that at all.”

Cremer received a huge, warm welcome in Les Sables d'Olonne's channel as thousands of well-wishers turned out to see the return of the sailor who only sailed her IMOCA 15 months ago for the first time.

“I'm so happy to be here. It's a big relief, we were stressed until the end. I'm happy to have succeeded and to be back with my team,” she said.

“This welcome is incredible, I feel like I am dreaming,” she added, grinning.

“I really learned during this race, it almost makes you want to take the boat away, now that I've learned a lot about it, and go and do it again. I realize that at the start of the Vendée Globe I didn't know how to use the boat so well and I discovered 'the beast' as it went. It's nice to be more comfortable on your machine. The preparation time was a bit short, I felt it the first week I was a little intimidated about everything there was to do.”

“I think I had less problems in terms of technical issues. I'm lucky to have a great team and a very well-prepared boat. It was my real priority from the start to be very careful with my boat. There were times when I wished I had pushed harder on the machine, but the goal was to finish.

“So I had a hard time, especially from the point of view of fatigue and the feeling of constantly having the sword of Damocles over my head, wondering when the next bad thing was going to happen.

“The moment I stopped thinking about it, it really got better and better.”

A relative latecomer to ocean racing, 31-year-old Cremer's bubbly, charismatic personality and big smile masks a steely resolve and an appetite to learn and consume information that merits comparison with the English skipper. This Vendée Globe is just her second ever solo race in an IMOCA.

But while MacArthur dreamed of racing round the world since she was very young, Cremer – a graduate of Paris' elite HEC business school with a postgraduate business diploma from Kelley College, Indiana USA – turned her back on a business career to go ocean racing.

MacArthur sent a message of congratulations to Cremer: “Hi Clarisse, just a little message to say a big bravo for your race around the world. It's great to see you at the finish line. It's truly an exceptional lap. Well done for everything you have done!”

After early success in the Mini class in November 2018 – before he had sailed an IMOCA in earnest – she was chosen by the Banque Populaire team to skipper their Banque Populaire X IMOCA.

Cremer had the benefit of a well prepared, straight daggerboard boat that has a great track record. First as the winner of the 2012-13 race as MACIF in the hands of Francois Gabart, and more recently as SMA winner of the Route du Rhum when sailed by Paul Meilhat.

She gave her business up to join her boyfriend and future husband, Tanguy Le Turquais, moving from Paris to live in Brittany. He was the person who gave her the taste for ocean racing, and she began dreaming of crossing the Atlantic after working with him and supporting him on his Mini program.

The Frenchwoman competed solo for the first time on the 2017 Mini Transat, finishing second in the 'series' division and enjoyed herself so much that she moved to the Figaro class.

Banque Populaire then offered her the chance to skipper their IMOCA project. Cremer saw it as a golden opportunity, but realised she had to prove herself.

“I know that there were other skippers who could have taken up this role. Having this chance comes with responsibilities.”

She set about learning all about IMOCAs, firstly alongside Banque Populaire's 2016-17 Vendée Globe race winning skipper Armel Le Cléac'h (finished sixth in the 2019 Transat Jacques Vabre), then sailing solo on a delivery trip back before her first solo race – June's Vendée Arctique Les Sables (12th).

Next up was the Vendée Globe, which was not kind to her in the early days. A series of fronts and tropical storm Thêta led to the need to carry out repairs, including the hydro generator, which had snapped off.

It was one thing after another and she felt tired, leading to a lot of self-questioning. “I'm afraid I'm going off my head. I know that each gale seriously affects the condition of my boat.” She openly talked about the times when things were getting her down.

However, Cremer – who celebrated her 31st birthday in the Pacific Ocean – hung on and fought hard, showing the same resources she had managed to find within herself when racing Minis and Figaro boats.

“I never really felt like giving up,” she recently declared. “I learned to switch off my brain, continue to advance, eat, sleep and look after myself.”

In the Southern Ocean, she faced a series of low-pressure systems and sailed along the edge of the Ice Exclusion Zone with waves more than 20 feet and winds of more than 40 knots in the Pacific.

When Banque Populaire X passed Cape Horn, Cremer said it was “a fantastic sight” and she believed she had finally “obtained her stripes”. She explained she was “relieved to have got that far without giving up.”

Cremer overtook Alan Roura (La Fabrique), racing alongside Romain Attanasio (PURE-Best Western Hotels & Resort) for a long time, before doing battle with Armel Tripon (L'Occcitane en Provence), who only managed to get ahead in the final week.

The climb back up the Atlantic was no joyride, as she had to overcome one of her fears, climbing the mast twice to repair her J2. She also had a tricky time in the Doldrums, before a final battle with big winds and heavy seas in the Bay of Biscay.

Cremer now appears relieved and is determined that this is just the beginning of her round the world racing career “If I could set off again around the world immediately, I would.” she said in recent days.

Clarisse Crémer/Banque Populaire X stats:
• Covered the 24 365.74 miles of the theoretical course at an average speed of 11.66 knots
• Distance actually travelled on the water: 27 697.07 miles at 13.25 knots of average speed

Key stages:
The Equator (outward)
17th on 20/11/2020 at 1150hrs UTC, 1d 22hrs 31mins after the leader
The Cape of Good Hope
14th on 03/12/2020 at 2203hrs UTC, 2d 22hrs 52mins after the leader
Cape Leeuwin
12th on 16/12/2020 at 1505hrs UTC, 3d 3hrs 39mins after the leader
Cape Horn
12th on 05/01/2021 at 2218hrs UTC, 3d 8hrs 18mins after the leader
The Equator (on the way back)
12th on 21/01/2021 at 0342hrs UTC, 4d 8hrs 30 mins after the leader
Her boat
Banque Populaire X, designed by Verdier VPLP, built at CDK – Mer Agitée and launched in March 2011.

Full information including race tracker: www.vendeeglobe.org 

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