Few press conferences take place at 3.30 in the morning, but the St Malo sailor was greeted with a standing ovation from an enthusiastic crowd who learned of many problems his team had successfully kept secret until after the finish.
Burton started talking about the luxury of having just had a proper meal, explaining: “I was running out of food and drank the last of the water – rainwater that I collected in the Doldrums – at four o’clock this afternoon.”
Burton’s watermaker failed a month before the finish – a big deal when fresh water is essential for rehydrating freeze dried food. What’s more, he was not able to heat water for drinks, or warm meagre rations of tinned food, for the final fortnight of the race.
“I’m really proud to have brought this beautiful yellow boat back at the end of its second Vendée Globe in a row,” he continued. “I would have liked to finish first, and with a better time than Armel le Cléac’h [his boat’s previous skipper who won the last edition of the race,” Burton joked.
“But this is a great result – it’s the achievement of a dream. We prepared as much as we could, with the experience we had, and we were not expected to reach the podium.:
“It shows you have to hold on until the end – even a few hours out things can change. It’s true that I really took the maximum out of the boat – but often when you have one problem that incident can lead to more trouble.
“When Kevin [Escoffier] had his accident we were nearby, a long way in the south with a lot of sail area and sailing at 30 knots. My boat has a back up autopilot, but it’s on the same network, so if the network is disturbed and stops working, the pilots also stop working. That issue created a lot of damage to sails and the mast that I still had to fix even once the pilot was working properly again.
“It’s quite unreal to be here now – to be able to resume the race was unlikely. I was about to retire – so thank you to the people whose good words – from my wife, family and partners – who encouraged me, without pressure, to continue. In the end overcoming these problems creates more pleasure and makes the satisfaction even more intense.”
Burton talked about his pit stop off Macquarie island as being a separate adventure. “When you race round the world you almost don’t see any land, so it almost doesn’t feel as though you are going round the world – all you see is water…
“But approaching Macquarie island felt like a journey to the end of the earth. I didn’t think I would be able to repair the boat to rejoin the race, so I had a curiosity to get to shore and touch the land. It was an adventure that wasn’t about the race any more – this rock, with very low clouds, in the middle of the ocean was amazing.” Burton’s team even prepared an educational file about the island for children in French schools.
“But the experience motivated me to attempt the repairs. I spent 15 hours there going up and down the mast twice, but then after the first gybe the mainsail fell down again. I really wanted to give up – but my team convinced me to climb the rig a third time to replace the halyard. After that I was really exhausted – one time I didn’t hear the alarm clock and went into the ice exclusion zone – that cost me a penalty of another two hours.”
“After that everything went really well, until the doldrums...”
“It’s true that I had a problem and didn’t exit smoothly from the doldrums. There was more wind than forecast and my main halyard broke again in the dark. I spent five hours jury rigging with the J1 headsail halyard so that I could hoist the mainsail with one reef. Then I lost two more hours to finish the job.”
“That’s why all my manoeuvres were slow – everything was more difficult – I even had to pump the keel manually, so tacks and gybes were very slow.
“In my case, I was free of having pressure for a result and knew that Bureau Vallée trusts me and will continue to support me after the race, whatever the result. It was great to have the freedom of being able to do my best, and to be happy with any small successes.
“I would like to try again to target a victory. There is a little bit of reflection to make before the choice of a boat. You have to mature the ideas well and look at the rule changes that have been approved for the IMOCA class, so it’s early to decide now.
The Vendée Globe has a magic of itself and can throw surprises. Next time, in four years, the boat that wins will probably be a new one – that’s what usually happens, but there will be interesting modifications to make to existing boats.