After finishing third in the Retour à la Base – his fifth consecutive third place finish of a remarkable debut season – the British yachtsman Sam Goodchild was confirmed today as IMOCA Globe Series Champion for 2023.

Goodchild reached the finish off Lorient on board For The Planet in the early hours of Sunday, just under eight hours behind winner Yoann Richomme on Paprec Arkéa and just under two hours behind second-placed Jérémie Beyou on board Charal.

It came at the end of another typically tenacious and consistently competitive race from the 34-year-old from Falmouth in Cornwall, that saw him mix it on the former LinkedOut with skippers in newer boats in a performance that belies his brief time in the Class.

And it came at the end of a year that saw him travel around 32,000 nautical miles in races, first on board second-placed finisher Holcim-PRB for much of The Ocean Race. Then he lined up in the Guyader Bermudes 1000, the Rolex Fastnet Race, the Défi Azimut 48 Hours and the Transat Jacques Vabre. Sailing alongside Antoine Koch in all but the Défi Azimut, he finished in third place in all of them.

“It’s better than any dream or anything I could imagine for sure,”Goodchild said of his IMOCA Globe Series title in which Richomme was runner-up with Beyou third. “I always get asked ‘what are your expectations?’ Well, I never really put a number on it. You get on the startline and you try to win and only one person does. But, for sure, if you’d asked me at the beginning of the year how I thought I was going to finish, I wouldn’t have said on the podium.”

© © Anne Beaugé / Retour à La Base

And Goodchild talked about the way he has approached his racing in a Class that he spent 10 years trying to find a way into, years that saw him race in the Solitaire du Figaro, on board Ultimes, Class 40s and then become the champion in the Ocean Fifty multihulls in 2021.

“The major thing is I haven’t put much pressure on myself,”he said. “It has never been a case of ‘I have to win or otherwise it’s a failure.’ I’ve just come in – do my best, sail tidy, don’t try and force anything or try and go for a win on a radical option – just keep it simple and see where you are, and that has definitely helped in keeping it steady.”

Reflecting on his third place in the Retour à la Base, the under-stated and softly-spoken Briton admitted he was “over the moon” with how his first solo transatlantic had gone in the Class. “We’d done all the fully-crewed and double-handed stuff this year and obviously it had gone better than expected, so then it was ‘Oh God, how’s it going to go when I’m on my own?’ It’s a whole different thing – and could I keep up with the intensity of it? So it was interesting, and being able to play with Jérémie and Yoann and put some newer boats behind me is obviously great,”he said.

He added: “I’ve been talking about doing IMOCA sailing for a long time, and I have dedicated my life to it in many ways, so to be here and doing it at a good level is amazing and a confidence booster, for sure.”

© © Anne Beaugé / Retour à La Base

Goodchild said the biggest issue for him during just under nine-and-a-half days at sea, when For The Planet travelled at an average speed of 19.5 knots, was looking after himself on what was a hostile platform for much of time. “The thing I struggle with is personal management,”he told the Class. “Sleeping and eating. Before you start, you always say you are not going to forget about it and put it to one side, but when you are being slammed around all over the place actually trying to prepare something to eat is not that easy. So you end up eating less – you eat, but not enough – and then sleeping is a case of trying to find the right moment, when conditions are so intense and unstable.You have to lose distance some time when you are asleep, but when am I going to do that? When is the right time? So there was a lot of discovery for me on that front…”

Goodchild is always quick to acknowledge the assistance and input he has had from others in helping him to achieve what he has on the water. On this occasion he mentioned the Thomas Ruyant Racing team, Antoine Koch and also the team at Holcim-PRB. “I’ve been fortunate enough to be surrounded by good people who have helped me a lot,”he summarised.

So, now the question of the Vendée Globe. Does Goodchild think he can win it? Will he be asking his team for modifications to his boat – for example, a change of bow profile to help it compete with newer designs and not dig in when going downwind in big seas?

On the latter subject he says a decision has already been taken not to attempt ambitious modifications to what has been a successful platform both in his hands and that of his teammate before him, Thomas Ruyant. “This whole project is about keeping it simple. It will be my first Vendée Globe and we have got a proven boat. There are things we could do to make it better and faster, but the number one aim has been minimal risk,” he said.

“We thought about a bow change and talked about it,”he continued. “There are several things that come into it but, in the end, we have a three-month re-fit and then we go into double transats and then the Vendée Globe. There is so little margin for risk and error, so it’s just not worth it.”

If Goodchild were to win the Vendée Globe he would be the first Briton to do it, going one step further than Ellen MacArthur (second in 2001) and Alex Thomson (second in 2017). He is not ruling it out as a possibility, pointing out that Yannick Bestaven managed this feat while sailing an older boat in the last race.

“If you look at the history of that race, you can see that anything is possible. The beauty of the Vendée Globe is nobody knows how it is going to pan out. If you put all the boats on paper…then I am not going to win it, there are quite a few people in front of me. But it doesn’t quite work like that,” he said.

After an epic year, Goodchild is looking forward to a rest. As he notes, he and his family left their home in Lorient on Christmas Day last year to travel to Spain to link up with the Holcim-PRB team. “Apart from three weeks off in August, it’s just been relentless since then,” said the new IMOCA Globe Series champion. “But I am not going to complain; this is what I’ve been asking for, for a long time, so I am making the best of it while I can.”

Ed Gorman