Florence Arthaud, co-founder of the Jules Verne Trophy, left us on 9 March 2015. Her sudden death was met by the incredulity and grief of her friends… And of an entire country.
Florence(1)(1) Florence by Titouan is, like Éric Tabarly, one of the most remarkable figures in the world of French sailing. In particular, she shared, with the man who was a master for many of us, an absence of preconceptions on things and people.
Driven by her great openness, matched by a passion for sailing, independence, generosity and courage, Florence imposed her presence, entirely naturally, in a predominantly masculine environment.
When she won the Route du Rhum in 1990, she earned respect and recognition that reached far beyond our small community of sailors. As the first woman to win a major ocean sailing race, Florence incarnated a spirit of freedom and tenacity. She inspired vocations. She showed women of her generation and those following a whole universe of possibilities, released from the frontiers that our society continues to force on their gender.
In this way, she recently created the Odyssée des Femmes, a race visiting great Mediterranean ports for women-only crews.
It was this authentic spirit of freedom that seduced me straight away. Florence and I first met in 1977, on a quay in Auckland, during a stopover of the Whitbread in New Zealand. I recognized myself in her slightly rebellious character. A loyal friendship was born that day.
Our victories in 1990 – the Vendée Globe Challenge for me and the Route du Rhum for Florence – drew us even closer.
At that point, we had all the legitimacy and media clout to concretize our dreams of oceanic adventures, which we considered hampered by new regulations. Most race regulations at the time limited participation to boats under 60 feet (18 meters).
But we wanted to steer large vessels as in the past. The Jules Verne Trophy was born from this dream.
More than once, Florence was posted in the watch room of Créach semaphore station in Ushant, a witness of the departures of the sea giants as they attacked the circumnavigation of the globe in under 80 days. On these occasions, she would say to skippers: “Be careful. We’re crossing our fingers and thinking of you. But don’t go too fast all the same – we’re counting on trying our luck after you!”
Like me, Florence never set off on this world tour.
I like to believe that every new attempt, in pursuit of the Jules Verne Trophy, is dedicated to her.
Co-founder of the Jules Verne Trophy