This Saturday 30th January, at 03 hours, 50 minutes, 15 seconds (UTC), Maxime Sorel crossed the finish line off Les Sables d'Olonne after 82 days, 14 hours, 30 minutes and 15 seconds at the end of this Vendée Globe. He finished 2 days, 10 h, 45 min after the winner, Yannick Bestaven.
The 34-year-old skipper, who wanted above all to "complete his round the world race", has achieved his main objective and more. He has driven hard all the way through his race until the end, notably by outrunning a big Atlantic depression over his last few hours of racing, and in doing so Sorel did much better than 'just' finish.
The green hull and the fiery dragon on its sails appeared from the driving rain and stormy seas and were immediately picked out by the lights of the media boats. The smile was visible, Sorel’s joy already apparent, illuminating the night, as he pressed his IMOCA V and B Mayenne through the final mile to the finish line.
Sorel’s young, boyish features, and his shock of blond hair that lightens with the seasons, belie his 34 years. But behind his smile and affable, desire to communicate, Sorel is a very driven, professional individual who is most often described as ‘a very nice guy’.
Before taking on all the oceans of the world, Sorel has always shown great self-sacrifice. He admires Michael Jordan, "because he has fought all his life", much like Sorel who at times struggled to carry out his projects.
In his previous, recent life he was a consulting engineer where hours of work are never counted, but he alway harboured the idea of taking up ocean racing. "What made me want to do it is not just to race on the seas, but to manage a project as a whole," he explains.
From surfing waves to a wave of emotion
Over the years, he has raced in Class40 (one Route du Rhum, three Transat Jacques Vabre), found and served faithful partners (VandB) and built up a community around him, to the point that a French region with no access to the sea, the Mayenne, supported him and became passionate about his adventure. The desire to escape enchanted him in the days before starting to the point of braving the confinement and offering himself a last surfing session away from prying eyes. Surfing waves before the wave of emotion. On D-Day, he enjoyed himself - "you get up in the morning and tell yourself you're going around the world" - then burst into tears in the arms of his brother, Jérémy. Then the emotions evaporated and the adventure began.
The first night was tricky with more than 40 knots, and he had to remove a net stuck in his rudder. But Maxime did better than manage the conditions - he even took the lead of the fleet on the 2nd day and has been leader 8 times throughout his race. Then there was the tropical depression Theta. The skipper speaks of "boiling seas", "strenuous manoeuvres", and mentions pilot problems but assures that, "we still have a word to say all the way to the equator." He crossed it in 14th place, the day after the leaders. On describing his first days of racing, he said, "exceptional at all levels. I felt as if I was one with the elements, the machine and the weather".
Muscular conditions and damage: a skipper never spared
Maxime Sorel keeps his smile in all circumstances. The eyes are slightly more ringed now, but his gaze is always fixed. Of course, his race was not without issues, and he takes up the oft repeated phrase, "one pain in the ass a day," attributed to Michel Desjoyeaux. We can't forget his complete stop after a week's racing, probably caused by a UFO, which blew the cap of the diesel tank. For Maxime, much of what he went through was a first-time: his longest time ever spent on the boat, the discovery of the South "which obliges to squeeze one's buttocks for a month", the gnawing cold and the chaos that emerges.
At the beginning of December, Sorel flirted 1.2 miles from the ice exclusion zone, adapting as best he could to the messy sea and the 40 knot gusts in the Indian Ocean. "It's squall after squall... I had been told that the Deep South was grey, cold and wet, but not that the sea was high like that," he explained at the time. Adapting to the time difference was "very disruptive" and on many times he had to test his 'DIY' skills. He had to climb the mast in 18 knots, due to two big tears in his headsails, and then spend "nine hours non-stop" repairing his J2. His knees and his hands hurt, with Maxime reporting at the time, "they're smashed, they burn". However, the skipper held on, firmly attached to the 11th place which he maintained in the south.
"I'm not a pure solo sailor"
On the long road to Cape Horn, the daily setbacks didn't stop his smile or him sharing his story. The cold meats and chocolate mousse in the Atlantic were replaced by hot dishes. At Christmas, he savoured a meal concocted by a renowned Saint-Malo chef. And throughout his race, he remained connected with the land - "I am not a pure solo sailor" - reading articles and concluding that the situation on land is much more chaotic than at sea...