British sailor Brian Thompson was celebrating with his crew yesterday morning after breaking the world record for sailing non-stop around the globe.
The 40-metre Banque Populaire crossed the finish line after 45 days, 13 hours, 42 minutes and 53 seconds, almost three days faster than the previous record.
The new record marks Thompson, who already holds more sailing records than anyone else in the world, as the first British sailor in almost two decades to win the Jules Verne Trophy for the fastest world circumnavigation. He is also the first Briton to circumnavigate the globe non-stop for a fourth time, beating existing records held by fellow Hampshire sailors Dee Caffari and Mike Golding.
From Southampton, the 49-year-old yachtsman was the only Briton in an otherwise all-French 14-man crew, which crossed the finishing line at 22:14 GMT on Friday.
Speaking to The Independent on Sunday after the boat docked in Brest, France, yesterday morning, Thompson said he and the team were overjoyed at what they'd achieved. "The excitement on board ratcheted up as we were coming to the finish line because it's such a massive record," he said. "All the crew were ecstatic and hugging each other. It was really quite emotional to cross the line."
The team had to take risks to find the fastest winds. "All the time we were slightly ahead of the record, but it's an incredibly hard record to break. Often we had to stray a long way off course to get the good wind. In the Atlantic we almost sailed to America and back to Europe because there was no wind in the middle. There was a risk we could have lost the record doing that."
The crew slept, worked and waited on stand-by in four-hour shifts, 24 hours a day. Thompson was a helmsman and trimmer, meaning he drove the vessel in turns with the other crew members, as well as changing and trimming the sails.
He dubbed himself the "crazy roast beef" of the French crew and said teammates gallantly put up with his "schoolboy French". In a mockery of his national cuisine, on Christmas Day the crew gave him a present of a Christmas pudding made from mashed up energy bars.
The team observed comets and giant icebergs on the journey. "There were a couple of amazing natural wonders we saw. Between New Zealand and Cape Horn, we were really far south and went past a massive iceberg that was almost as big as the Isle of Wight. We also saw Comet Lovejoy on Christmas Day, which was something incredible. It was like a searchlight in the sky."
As the boat docked, the French skipper Loick Peyron told reporters: "To sail around the world in 45 days you've got to be at your limits very often. We had to be very careful going very fast through the red zones, and I had to furrow my brow to calm my young Jedis who would have liked to go even faster."
Thompson said he was pleased to have set the record in the year of the London Olympics: "Sailing is probably one of Britain's most successful Olympic sports, so it feels good to start an Olympic year with a record. Hopefully this will give the Olympic sailors a bit of a boost."
Sir Robin Knox-Johnson was the last Briton to win the title after co-skippering the Enza New Zealand. He took 74 days and 22 hours to complete the 28,000-mile course.
Thompson's parents and friends met him off the boat in France, and he is looking forward to going back to the UK and seeing his young daughters: "Seeing my kids, who are four and six, will be wonderful," he said.
But he is already thinking about his next race: "I'm planning my next adventure, which will be the Vendée Globe solo race later this year. I've been four times round the world non-stop and I'd like to make it five."