LES SABLES D'OLONNE, France (AP) — French sailor Francois Gabart won the Vendee Globe around-the-world race in a record time on Sunday, shaving six days off the previous record held by countryman Michel Desjoyeaux.
The 29-year-old Gabart is the youngest skipper competing in the seventh edition of the race, and crossed the finish line in Les Sables d'Olonne in western France at lunchtime on Sunday in his yacht MACIF.
"At the start I didn't think I could win the race, I started to think I could in the Indian Ocean," Gabart said. "I learned a lot about myself, I pushed my limits." Gabart sailed for a total of 78 days, 2 hours, 16 minutes, 40 seconds, smashing two-time winner Desjoyeaux's course record of 84 days, 3:09:08 in 2009. Desjoyeaux did not compete this year.
When Gabart crossed the equator line on Jan. 15 he was already more than five days quicker than Desjoyeaux in 2009. Frenchman Armel Le Cleac'h finished second, just over three hours behind Gabart — the smallest margin in the race's history.
Briton Alex Thomson was in third place when Le Cleac'h crossed the line. "The battle with Armel was settled in the Pacific, he really forced me to dig deep," Gabart said. "The fact the race was so intense is also down to him."
Gabart's average speed was 15.3 knots and he covered a total of 28,646.55 miles, spending 44 days, 20 hours in the lead. Thousands of people packed the port in western France to give Gabart a hero's welcome as he returned. He looked visibly moved and struggled to hold back tears as he stood on the front of his yacht, holding up lit distress flares, and waving back to the crowd.
"Everyone tells you about the fervor the race generates, but you just don't realize it when you're at sea," Gabart said. "I made a lot of errors (in the race), but it's no big deal. Humans make mistakes. You just have to bounce back."
Twenty skippers started out on Nov. 10 but 11 are still at sea and eight have failed to finish the race so far. "You're never safe in this race, it never ends, it can all be over in a few seconds," Gabart said. "That's what makes the race so intense. I had that in my mind throughout the race. That's why I am so emotional now."