Everything about the Retour à La Base seemed to follow the script, even down to the last of the Mohicans, Jean Le Cam arriving back in Lorient to complete his solo race as the awards ceremony was taking place, an event which reflected performance, resilience and a spirit of camaraderie.

And indeed there was a certain mystical air around Lorient’s pontoons. Around midnight hundreds of well wishers turned out to welcome the ever popular Le Cam back from his first solo race on his new David Raison design. There was a strange, eerie silence which hung on as Le Cam approached the dock, no one seemingly knowing quite what to shout. That was until the 64 year old skipper, with his trademark mound of jet black hair and drawn features, says, ‘Ah, are you there?’ and the acclamations and loud welcome goes on for minutes. Le Cam (Tout Commence en Finistère - Armor-Lux) arrived safely, after crossing the line for his Retour à La Base at 21:37hrs Monday December 18, in 32nd position.

Having started some six days after the main body of the fleet on his brand new boat which he and Bernard Stamm had delivered out to Martinique for the Retour à La Base. He was hindered all the way back across the Atlantic by bad weather, headwinds and big seas.

“At one point I thought it was never going to end, I was never going to get there. But in the end, the boat said to me: “Yes you can do it”. Sometimes us human beings are screwed up like that: they see the worst all the time. But everything always turns out better than you think. And once again, it did!”

By completing his race in 18 days 5 hours 37 minutes 24 seconds (since the official start on November 30), after having actually spent 12 days 4 hours 55 minutes and 27 seconds on course, Jean Le Cam has taken a first big step towards qualification would be his sixth Vendée Globe start. And he learned a lot about his new, daggerboard boat “It surprised me, of course I have not experienced speeds like that, we had peaks of 28 knots, averages of 22-24 knots, the boat goes fast! “, exclaimed Le Cam.

A Transatlantic with no ABDs

The inaugural solo race was reviewed in turn by the key players as they spoke. Jean-Philippe Cau, president of the Lorient Grand Large association, the organizers of the event, said,
“From a sporting point of view, I strongly believed in the race as a concept but when we see the result, the outcome I am moved”

He thanked all the teams who worked behind the scenes, including the sixty Lorient residents who volunteered for the duration of the festivities. 

“It was a difficult transatlantic race, but everyone made it, everyone did indeed ‘return to La Base’ and that obviously makes us happy,” underlined the race director, Hubert Lemonnier. “And yet, we had our share of challenges: dengue fever, injuries, a dismasting, torn sails, harsh conditions… it’s a good learning experience for all of us,” concluded Lemonnier who, in less than for a year now, will lead the Race Direction team for the Vendée Globe.

“The lesson of this Return to Base is there is a crazy change in intensity and the level of demands of our boats,” said Louis Burton (Bureau Vallée), seventh in the race, who, despite his long experience said “I am  amazed by crossing the Atlantic in nine days, where, even ten years ago, it took at least three days more to cross.

That is an opinion shared by the big winner of the evening, Yoann Richomme (Paprec Arkéa), who said “I am immensely proud of winning this Retour à La Base especially given the sporting and technological level, you cannot make mistakes”.

But the challenge and adversity retains a unique appeal, a pleasure that is shared. Isabelle Joschke (MACSF) talked of  “my crazy happiness at going solo again” or of Sam Davies (Initiatives Coeur) talking of her “joy of standing up to this crazy machine”. “We are writing a crazy story,” Damien Seguin (Groupe Apicil) said on stage.

Prize for fighting spirit and IMOCA in chocolate

The combativity, fighting spirit prize put up by the French textile brand Mousqueton, official partner of Retour à La Base went to Tanguy Le Turquais (Lazare) who recalled his “fantastic scenario”  but pointed out that his story was not the only one out there

“Behind each boat, there is a great story, teams who all work hard, let's not forget them,” said the Lorient skipper, who started in Martinique 28 hours after the fleet and made a magnificent “comeback” to twentieth place.

“That’s the magic of our sport, nothing is ever written in advance,” concluded the 34-year-old Le Turquais who took to the with his and Clarisse Crémer’s little daughter, “his motivation,” in his arms.

The IMOCA fleet works for a greater cause than just sport “Through your performance, you have shown that the future of maritime transport must involve sailing,” recalled Louis Mayaud, project manager of the partner company Belco. The 32 Retour à La Base skippers each transported 23 kilograms of cocoa beans on board their boats, which will soon become more than 400 chocolate bars…

The Belco prize went to Thomas Ruyant (For People), who set a new single-handed distance record on a monohull: 539.94 nautical miles (999.96 km) in 24 hours!

“It’s a pleasure to have done this race and brought your cocoa beans back to Lorient,” said Ruyant who received a magnificent chocolate IMOCA made by Criollos chocolatier.