A Stunning Final
It was finally at 20h04 GMT that the Vendée Globe 2004 was completed in Les Sables d’Olonne. Karen Leibovici brought the race to a close by finishing in 13th place on Benefic. What a weekend! Summer conditions in Les Sables d’Olonne for 2 magnificent finishes. Initially it was local skipper, Raphael Dinelli, completing his first Vendée Globe on his third attempt. He received a rapturous welcome on Saturday afternoon from the thousands of people massed along the banks of the channel. It was an intense and much deserved conclusion to a fantastic race.
Karen, Karen …
It was late yesterday night that the 5th edition of the Vendée Globe was completed by the arrival of Karen Leibovici aboard Benefic. It was the epilogue of what proved to be a crazy Sunday where the crowds came out in their hundreds to welcome in their heroine, after a long, long wait.
Numerous forecasts for an ETA were being tossed around throughout the day yesterday. The more optimistic of them reckoned early Sunday morning that a midday finish in the spring of Les Sables d´Olonne was on the cards. As the day went on the ETA’s became increasingly less optimistic though, Karen Leibovici (Benefic) caught up in the midst of light winds around twenty miles from deliverance. Already the crowds were hurrying towards the channel leading to Port Olonna, in search of more specific information. As time went on thoughts turned to the fact that the tide was on its way out and that the channel would only be practicable until 2030 GMT. After some precisions on these calculations it was decided that “she’d get through until 2010 GMT, but only just.
At around 1600 GMT the pleasure boats, the organisation’s ribs and launches, Karen’s supporters, all began to leave the pontoons to go and welcome Benefic off Les Sables d’Olonne. She was then less than 15 miles from the line. Nothing at all compared with the 23000 odd miles that she had just covered, and yet…
It was a surreal image as a cortege of boats, ribs and yachts massed around Karen’s ‘red cigar’
Benefic, almost at a stand still, the sails flogging in a bare whisper of air. Gradually, in virtually complete silence, the journalists approached the boat one by one to get Karen Leibovici’s comments, as she understandably became a little annoyed by the situation … Back on shore a presenter was trying to keep the public informed, though there was really nothing to be said when you don’t know when it’s going to end …
Fortunately the conditions finally enable her to gybe one last time at around 1830 GMT and make a direct course towards the finish line. As if by magic the wind kicks back in as night falls…3 knots, then 4 then 5, the whole flotilla now surrounding Benefic as it makes headway at last. The atmosphere becomes lighter, the fog horns blare out flamboyantly in the darkness, the supporters yell and Karen relaxes, trims her boat one last time and finally revels in the moment.
Deliverance comes at 2004 GMT, Karen Leibovici crosses the line in 13th and final position. The emphasis is on making the channel as quickly as possible. Benefic is taken in hand by the organisation’s ribs and drives towards the jetty at over 6 knots. They get through! The boat is
slowed and the crowd applaud the 4th woman to loop the Vendée Globe loop. The atmosphere is sublime, the crowds have been waiting for hours, but they’re out in force, as always.
They tie up to the pontoons, there is applause from the supporters, they are showered with
champagne, there are bouquets of flowers, hugs and kisses, tears, protocol… Karen eventually steps down off her boat and works her way up the pontoon to climb up onto the podium. She gives the crowds
her first sentiments, still in shock after everything that has happened.
Raphael Dinelli, Benoit Parnaudeau, Jean-Pierre Dick, Isabelle Autissier, Catherine Chabaud, Jean-Luc Van Den Heede, Alain Gautier, the welcome committee is of a calibre that reflects the quality of the event. They wouldn’t have missed this moment for the world, Karen showing exceptional courage throughout these 126 days at sea. More hugs and kisses and tears and then the ceremony is rounded off by the notes of the song that her brother Roch wrote her during the Vendée Globe.
It is the end of the ceremony and the start of a long night with friends, partners, and family…
The end of a long but magnificent day, the ultimate of this Vendée Globe 2004, one of those that goes down in the history books of a race like no other.
Quotes from the Pontoons :
Karen Leibovici (Benefic): “The last day was hard. When all the boats swarmed around me, the transition was very quick, too quick without a doubt. I didn’t let down my guard until I crossed the finish line, I couldn’t let myself lose concentration. After that it was just crazy. I was overjoyed when the people that are close to me came aboard. The channel was all a bit of a blur. I’ll have to take a step back from the whole thing to take it all in but I’d like to say thank you. It’s good to know there are people following you, who are interested in what we do.”
Philippe de Villiers, President of the SAEM Vendée: “From the first to the last, all the finishes have been extraordinary! The fact that there were still 50,000 people to welcome Karen Leibovici is crazy! The standard in the race has never been as high as it is this year which I’m obviously very pleased about. What we hope for in the future is to continue to place the emphasis on the human aspect of this race and we’re going to do just that.”
Denis Horeau, Race Director: “It has been extremely pleasurable for the whole organisation to have welcomed 13 officially ranked competitors into Les Sables d’Olonne, as well as Patrice Carpentier and Marc Thiercelin who made the Vendée port without being classed. This 5th edition of the Vendée Globe ends on the same high note on which it started, with an enthusiastic public who have welcomed this ultimate arrival of Karen Leibovici in deserving fashion. We couldn’t have imagined a better note on which to end this exceptional event.”
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