In this January 19, 2017, it is the storm in the head of Armel Le Cléac’h. The sailor’s breastplate cracks, emotions surge. Only a few tens of miles left, and the skipper of People’s Bank will have finished with his round-the-world sailing and non-stop, after seventy-four days of navigation far from men. His pursuer Alex Thomson can no longer catch him, barring a stroke of luck. The crowd is already waiting for him on the quays of Sables-d’Olonne: a dive without a net in a human tide that he has not really prepared. “Until the day before, I refused to think about my arrival”, he says four years later.
The memories of racing are awakening, always precise and technical in this discreet sailor: “During the last 24 hours, the wind is blowing in the right direction and it is very cold. “ Along the shores of Finistère, which he has crisscrossed in all weathers, the Breton is caught up in his past: the first family outings with his father, regattas with friends, races with the grown-ups … His blue sailboat and white crosses freighters. Two Rafales fly over it. After months of silence, the VHF radio spits out its messages again. “We find the life we left behind”, he explains.
Armel Le Cléac’h quickly glides over the “whirlwind of emotions” which pierced him by crossing the imaginary line in front of Les Sables-d’Olonne. We insist on a fact immortalized by the cameras: his first human tears in public. That day, this father, a bit austere, presses his face with his glove, loose “I’m hallucinating”, and cries, the nerves alive. “For months, I lived with the pressure of the favorite, keeping everything to myself, my doubts and my technical setbacks, like a pressure cooker rising in pressure, he remembers. And there, finally, I no longer needed to control my speech. “
According to the person concerned, arrival at the port is ” brutal “. This Cartesian engineer no longer controls anything, even ceding control of his boat to his team, which he has learned to gauge, his eyes closed, the oscillations in the waves. “At that moment, I am lost, I no longer belong to myself, he sums up. It is difficult to keep your bearings when you are carried away by a wave of solicitations. “ Everything is linked in a forced march: questions from journalists, reunion with his wife and two children, the public on the pontoon.
Usually, Armel Le Cléac’h hardly tastes concerts and other human gatherings. After seventy-four days without touching his fellows, he nevertheless “Appreciated” to dive into the crowd gathered for hundreds of meters along the quays. “In the middle of the oceans, we take stock of our life, he confides. I had time to appreciate the importance of human relationships and I thought of all those people I loved and sometimes neglected. “ On land, the winner lingers for half an hour with his family, before being caught up by the evening of the festivities where adrenaline temporarily erases physical exhaustion.
Between two requests, the skipper swallows his first real meal in months, a steak and fries, and takes his first hot shower. The comfort of life on land is obvious to him. At sea, he washed himself in salt water and rinsed himself with two liters of fresh water that he had made from the boat’s solar panels. No waste on board: every little essential gesture of daily life has a meaning and a cost. “After traveling around the world, I started to take a lot of perspective on material things and I tried to keep this sobriety”, he continues.
It is said that going to the end of the oceans, playing with storms, damage and fears, alone at the helm of sea giants as powerful as they are fragile, changes you definitely. Armel Le Cléac’h has not been quite the same since his victory – which he drew to the depths of his body and his head. More confident, less stressed, more open, he learned to set his priorities. “I go to the essential, he thinks with hindsight. I no longer bother with the little things that can ruin your life. “
In a few days, the first competitors of the Vendée Globe 2021 should enter the Sables-d’Olonne channel. The winner of the 2016-2017 edition will come to salute his successor to the winners of the legendary race. This one will probably not know the crowd of great days, Covid obliges. But the winner of the 2016-2017 edition is sure: “It will be violent, brutal and magical, in short, a unique moment in a lifetime. “