I was passed an enormous champagne bottle and stood there with my knees shaking. If there was ever a time that I had to look like I could open one it was now! The whole world must be watching us…I shook the bottle and the cork exploded out above the heads of the crowd. As champagne sprayed into the air it sank in: we’d done it, we’d finished first in the Vendée Globe. Excalibur and I had been out there for ninety-one days and we’d done it together, and it was her that carried me home.

Our manager walked along the dock towards us, and I could tell by the look on his face that it was time to leave Excalibur. I felt a knot in my stomach and I wanted to run away, I wanted to turn back time, somehow to pinch myself to wake up, and be back out there again. But this time I knew it was not possible, my time was up now.

Tears welled uncontrollably in my eyes and I could feel a burning pain inside of me. I felt numb as the manager touched my shoulder, and involuntarily my legs started moving towards the bow. Like a nightmare, my feet wouldn’t do as they were told. I wanted to stop – I knew I wasn’t ready to go. I turned away from him and slipped out from beneath his arm, the tears blurring my vision. I was oblivious to the noise and the hundreds of flashing cameras. How could I leave Excalibur? How could I walk away? Our trip was over, and I knew deep down inside that things never could or would be the same again. I walked blindly to the cockpit. I stood facing Excalibur’s bow and closed my eyes, my forehead pushing hard against her coach-roof. We needed time alone. I wanted to say thank you, I wanted her to know how sorry I was that it was all over, that I would have to leave. Those few moments felt like hours, as I have never thought harder about a single thing in my life. Sadness feels so different from exhaustion. It is a pain in my heart whereas before pain had only run through my bones.

The last three months felt like forever and I could not remember what life had been like before the race. For the first time since I crossed the line my feelings were coming out, their bluntness impossible to hide, I was about to leave my friend, and it was breaking my heart. Deep down, I knew that I couldn’t have done more to look after her. As I stood with my head bowed I could only say my last thank you as I heard the noise of the crowds once again. Just the fact that we were still both intact was proof enough to show me that she had done her best to look after me too.

Until this moment the finish had felt like a dream, the thousands of people, the yell from the crowds, and the bright lights continuously shining. But right now those images were blurred and distorted by the pain. I clenched my teeth and tore myself away.

I cannot remember those final steps to Excalibur’s side, but as I climbed over her guard-wires for the first time in three months I felt as if I was leaving a best friend behind. As I jumped onto the pontoon, I held tight onto her wires, then laid my head against her. My eyes were tightly shut as I reached out to stroke her hull. Her rounded gunwale felt cool and calming, and for one last moment the world closed off.

Then I heard the devastating words “It’s time to go Sean” as a hand touched my shoulder, and as I turned to leave my hand slid silently away from Excalibur. Our Vendée Globe was over.