At four minutes and 59 seconds after midnight on 16th March 1990, Titouan Lamazou crossed the finishing line of the first edition of the Vendée Globe. Three years before the triumph of the artist-sailor from Béarn, the glasses had clinked as the idea took shape. A thousand little details had come together and do so each time on a grander and grander scale for the round the world voyage that is repeated every four years.
Titouan went through it all: the Vendée department signing up to his idea, the discussions around the concept of 100 days spent alone at sea battling against the elements, and the divine discovery of the crowds lining up on the harbour walls in the entrance channel to les Sables d’Olonne. A magical refrain that will ring out again for the ninth time on 8th November this year.
“Forever the first” was the great title Rémy Fière came up with in L’Equipe on 17th March. It remains true. The first one to do it, Titouan Lamazou aboard Ecureuil d’Aquitaine II, sailed a route on which more than a hundred sailors have done what it takes to bathe in glory since then. He was the pioneer of sailing solo around the world finishing 17 hours ahead of Loïck Peyron and two days and 17 hours ahead of Jean-Luc Van Den Heede. He demystified what being alone for 100 days at sea means. The magic that the Vendée Globe produces means that each spectator still fantasizes about the solitude and confinement in such a tiny space that is propelled at speed on such a large expanse of water.
Not completely cut off from the rest of the world
Titouan replied to questions from French journalists, Henri Sannier and Noël Mamère on 17th March during the main news on France’s second TV channel: “I don’t have the same vision of the race as those that followed it from ashore. I was in contact each day with my advisors and it felt much less poetic than it felt ashore.”
As he sailed around the world via the three capes, the world was changing. When Titouan and the twelve others set sail from Les Sables d’Olonne on 26th November 1989, the Berlin Wall had already come down. But the sailors were alone at sea when on 2nd December, Mikhail Gorbachev and George H. W. Bush announced the end of the Cold War after a summit in Malta; on 22nd December, the Romanian revolution ended with the overthrow of the dictator, Ceaucescu; on 11th February 1990, Nelson Mandela was released and symbolically, apartheid ended. Titouan Lamazou might have missed out on these big news stories… but that was not the case. “I listened to the news on the radio… Radio Moscow, South African radio… It was funny hearing bells ringing out everywhere. We are not poorly informed at sea, maybe even better informed that on dry land: we hear things from around the world.”
For those who have known only the digital age, at that time, that’s to say 1989 and 1990, Titouan Lamazou was listening to laser discs on board, singers like Cindy Lauper, the star with peroxidewigs and a four octave voice.
And on finishing there was the huge crowd which lined the channel of Les Sables d’Olonne to welcome the winner. In fact he first went up the channel on a motor boat as the low tidal height did not allow him to pass on Open 60 footer. This heaving mass of humanity which turned out to welcome him home was a bit of a surprise because the start was in effect quite low key.
At sea he had a little idea of what might await those who would return to the Vendée. He motivated himself with the mantra ‘tomorrow I might be completely dead’ as per the testimony book written by Patrick Le Rue and published in 1990. “At times, I can't help thinking of victory. It is my only goal. Almost every day, I step away from my immediate concerns and imagine the victory as in a cinema blockbuster. I always put on the same laser disc, Cindy Lauper and I dream of the arrival. I see myself crossing the finish line with lots of boats around me and my waving my arms. Obviously, it will not happen at all as I had thought. My motivation was always intact, but I kept in mind that we are going into a race the likes of which we have never lived through, that we have never known. None of us have been alone this long. "
Alone, yes, and there was the constant battle with oneself. It was the same for all those who crossed the finish line, Loïck Peyron, Jean-Luc Van Den Heede, Philippe Jeantot, skipper-organizer, Pierre Follenfant, Alain Gautier and Jean-François Coste, but also those who didn’t make the finish, Patrice Carpentier, Mike Plant, Bertie Reed and Guy Bernardin – and the other organizing skippers, Jean-Yves Terlain and Philippe Poupon/
The "Nibbler of hazelnuts" - the nickname given to the skipper of Ecureuil Aquitaine II - by the young and cheeky Loïck Peyron is the first to have known the full experience of the magic of the Vendée Globe: that is extreme isolation in hostile seas, conquering fears and, ultimately, triumph.
The least we can say is that Lamazou came of age.