Steve White has become the 8th finisher out of 30 competitors in the prestigious Vendée Globe, the solo, non-stop, round-the-world sailing race. While the BBC reported that the sailor “was greeted by his wife, Kim, and his children.” He returned after 109 days alone at sea, to an incredible reception in Les Sables D’Olonne, France, with crowds as large as 50,000 people lining the harbour walls.
At the time of writing, the UK media response to Steve’s feat was pretty poor. The Times, The Telegraph and the Daily Mail had no mention of the story. The Guardian story online ran to five whole sentences. The difference between the way France and England respond to the race is stark.
White said about the French crowds:
” Sailing is a way of life here, and it doesn’t seem to be like that in England and that’s a shame, and it has been overlooked in the media which is a shame, it’s not like that over here, I’m not seeking to be famous or anything like that, but to have support like this, and support with the boat, it’s something we don’t get in England, which is a shame.”
While all stories in the Vendee Globe are interesting for a wider public audience, Steve’s story is newsworthy for the fact that he had to re-mortgage his house some four times to fund his dream; the fact that he only gained enough sponsorship to actually be able to compete in the week before the start, back on 9th November 2008; and that of 30 starters 18 sailors failed to complete the race through a combination of injuries or damage to their boat.
Steve’s boat, Toe in the Water, was joined by a flotilla of around 200 boats of varying shapes and sizes. A large banner was draped over the harbour wall that read: ‘Thanks Steve. You made us dream.’ It summed up perfectly the affection that the locals have for him, and his family.
Today Steve said,
“I am just so amazed to finally be here. It’s everything I dreamt it would be and more. I cannot thank my family, friends, sponsors and the people of France enough. Thank you France for looking after my family while I was away, I don’t know what the French word for ‘humbled’ is, but that is how your welcome and support have made me feel.”
As for the future, Steve’s plans are fixed:
“I’ll be back in 2012 to compete again, and then in 2016. I’ll have a new boat and I’d really quite like to win. If any of you have ever had even a small dream about competing in the Vendee Globe, I urge you to do it. It will exceed all your dreams, it is the best sporting event in the world and I don’t think there can be a feeling like this anywhere else.”
Steve’s boat is named Toe in the Water after the charity that promotes the rehabilitation of injured servicemen through competitive sailing. This came about due to a last minute donation from a consortium of anonymous donors who provided White the shortfall in money required to compete, but asked that he rename the boat and give any publicity to the charity.
Take a look at this video. This crowd turned out days after the winners had crossed the line to welcome a man who came 8th. There are not many sports where that happens.