“ For the Ultime series, The Transat is the beginning of a new story.”
At 47, Thomas Coville is one of the world’s most accomplished offshore sailors, and the gifted Frenchman has sailed at the top end of professional racing for over 20 years, including numerous Jules Verne Trophy runs and a Volvo Ocean Race victory.
On May 2nd he will set sail from Plymouth as part of the Transat bakerly, as one of three skippers competing in the Ultime class. History will come roaring to life on the start line on Monday, as the giant multihulls of the sea compete in The Transat for the first time.
Sodebo, the 31-metre giant, will be Coville’s steed for his second participation in the singlehanded transatlantic race to New York, a race which he hopes is the start of a new history for the class.
“For the Ultime series, The Transat is the beginning of a new story. We are creating a new class, and personally I am excited that three of us are here at the beginning. Next edition, I hope to see five or six of us competing, as The Transat is an important race for the Ultime progamme, and OC Sport, the race organisers, are a good partnership for us for the future. I am confident we are building our future together. “
Like many of the French skippers competing in the race, Coville was inspired by Eric Tabarly, the man who won the race in 1964 and inspired a generation of French offshore sailing talent – but he is also driven by some more recent memories.
“When I was a kid, I remember my dad speaking about Eric Tabarly. My dad’s admiration for him was inspiring. The French taking on the English at their game – that confrontation was great.
“For me, it is that combined with lots of other little memories that make it a special race. Racing against Michel Desjoyeaux in 2004, and arriving into Boston after such a big battle – for me that is still one of the best battles Michel and I have had and he is one of the best solo sailors in the world.
“This race is also the historical Transat – it existed before all the others and it is the hardest. The wind, the waves, and most of the time racing close to icebergs. It is for the adventure that we go offshore and this race has a lot of that.”
Coville may be philosophical about his reasons for taking on the 3,050 mile North Atlantic passage, but ultimately on his colossal boat, he is here to win - the key to which he says is a balance of three key points.
“You need to be prepared, that is half the job to know your boat perfectly. You need to have good management of your body, and you have to be close to the weather forecast to try and have a long term strategy which is not easy on our big machines, where you have no place for hesitation. And you need a bit of luck.”
Coville’s competition in the Ultime class comes in the form of 50 year old Yves le Blevec, who is racing Coville’s previous boat, now rebranded Actual, and 29 year old Francois Gabart, the last winner of the Vendée Globe, is undertaking his first solo sailing race on his beast, MACIF.
“François is a fantastic sailor. Even if it is his first race alone on this boat, he doesn’t need to learn. He is going to be at 100% really quickly. His boat is a brand new machine – light and very efficient. I am the opposite. Sodebo is heavier, but it’s strong and I know it well. It’s made for going round the world.
“Yves is going to be competition too – he can be a good sprinter, and has excellent seamanship. It’s going to be a strong battle. I’m excited for it to start.”
The race starts at 1430 local time, and with thousands of spectators expected to gather on Plymouth Hoe to wave Bon Voyage to The Transat bakerly’s brave competitors, as they start the 3,050nm race from Britain’s Ocean City to New York, crossing the North Atlantic alone.