It can happen so quickly: one moment you‘re ahead of the pack, next moment you come to a total stop and have to face unexpected problems. Alex Thomson, who led the Vendée Globe 2020 regatta field for days, had to take a forced break, repair his boat – and give up the lead.
Some sailors couldn’t conceal malicious joy: “That’s what comes from that” – referring to the fact that Thomson’s ride through hell had to be bought with dramatic material fatigue. But it is much too early for such judgements. “I will do everything I can to stay in the race,” says Alex. Dramatic tones – what happened there?
Alex Thomson is disappointed about his unexpected setback © Hugo Boss
What we know so far: The British favourite already underwent a routine check on Saturday evening. The official description of his discovery: “structural damage to a longitudinal beam in the nose area”. That this is no trivial matter can be seen indirectly from the immediate measures taken. Thomson stopped the boat and got down to work. His last official comment: “It gave me a little shock at first, but I think it could have been worse. Everything can be fixed.” He hopes it will only take one day.
At last the repair took 48 hours. But this Monday Alex Thomson could shout out: „I set sail again, I’m back in the race!“ Although he dropped back to fifth place. But there are still 19.500 miles ahead of the race participants.
The yacht, Alex perfect toy
At age 46, British Sailor, Alex Thomson, heads into this edition of the Vendée Globe as a favourite to take the title. This is his fifth Vendée Globe and after the first two attempts in 2004 and 2008 ending in retirement, his success has been building. 2012 he finished in third place, 2016 he finished in second place and he hopes that this year he will finish in the top spot.
© Cleo Barnham/Hugo Boss/Vendee Globe
He has a hunger to perform and deliver the result he has worked so hard for. He has been extremely fortunate to have kept his sponsorship with Hugo Boss going for over 17 years making it one of the longest relationships in sporting history. The security this offers, has meant that Alex has been able to build on his experience, accolades, and success to produce a boat that is designed for Alex to sail to victory.
The new Hugo Boss, designed by VPLP with Peter Hobson has had a great deal of input from Alex, as he knows how he sails his boat and what he wants from his boat. The boat was built in the UK at Jason Carrington’s yard and was launched in time for the Transat Jacques Vabres Race in October 2019. Sadly, after just a few days the boat hit something resulting in Alex and his co skipper, Neal McDonald, having to drop the keel away to preserve the integrity of the boat. They limped into the Canary Islands and went back to the UK and into the yard for repair work and structural reinforcement to be done.
Bad training conditions
2020 meant that sailing time was restricted due to the global pandemic and launching only in August left very little time to test and check the boat before the start of the Vendée Globe. It was felt that with no racing or enough time spent sailing the boat, Alex may feel under prepared for the race.
The reality was he was the unknown entity. No one had seen the boat sailing, and no one really knew what sailing Alex had done, he just had not spent any time alongside any of his rivals. So, without any comparison, no one really knew how the boat was going to perform. We could see the design had pushed the boundaries and it looked fast and we know Alex sails fast, the question that hung in the air was could this be the year?
Alex Thomson in fine attire on the keel – the sponsoring by Hugo Boss is running since 17 years © Lloyd Images
This glint in his eye
The Alex Thomson, we saw depart the dock in Les Sables D’Olonne was the most relaxed and confident we have ever seen him before a Vendée Globe start. He was smiling, he felt prepared and he felt confident and he looked fit, healthy and ready for the race. He had a glint in his eye as he suggested he was keen to see how the boat lined up with the competition. He has been communicating honestly and openly on a daily basis with state of the art cameras and sound quality thanks to his partnership with Nokia Bell technologies, and we are seeing a happy, relaxed sailor at ease in his boat that has been designed to accommodate exactly what he wanted.
Already this glint in the eye: Alex Thomson in 2018 © Alex Thomson Racing
It is quite different in design to the other boats and the more traditional look we are used to. His work area is totally enclosed, allowing him to be safe and secure and he has adapted well to sailing using his remote camera system and fibre optic sensors transmitting 350 points of data coming in at up to 100 hz. He has thresholds to sail within and alarms will sound when he reaches these.