Written by Jack O'Rourke
15 October 2020
British sailor Alex Thomson is looking to going a step further as he prepares for his latest tilt at the Vendée Globe.
Thomson is the reigning runner-up, having taken 74 days 19 hours and 35 minutes to complete the 28,000-mile race in 2016–17, going one better after finishing third in 2012.
He is preparing for his fifth race after being forced to abandon his initial two race attempts due to boat damage.
Dubbed the Everest of Sailing, the Vendée Globe is considered by many sailors to be the world’s toughest yacht race, but Thomson is relishing the opportunity.
If successful, he will become the first non-French winner, and it is that title that has consumed his ambition during a difficult year in 2020.
The team has completed the final service of its IMOCA 60 racing yacht HUGO BOSS, and are heading to Les Sables D’Olonne, France, for the start of the race on Sunday 8 November.
How have your preparations been for the Vendée Globe?
It’s been challenging, for sure. We weren’t able to train on the water for about nine weeks because of COVID, which of course was a setback and something we couldn’t have predicted. But all the teams have had that same issue so we’re not alone.
That being said, we were able to push forward with a lot of projects off the water during those weeks, particularly our technology projects with Nokia Bell Labs, our Technology Partner. So we still made the most of that time.
Since we’ve been back on the water, training has been going really well; I’m happy with how the boat is performing. The developments we’ve made along the way are delivering some serious performance gains.
Are you happy with your form going into the race? Which lead-in races have you done?
I feel confident in myself, as well as the boat. The decisions we’ve made are, I feel, the right ones in terms of the design and set-up of the boat and everything is working as we had hoped it would. So that’s certainly positive.
Time on the water is something you can’t buy. We’d love to have had more of that, of course.
We were scheduled to race in the New York to Vendée Transat, but the race was cancelled due to COVID.
IMOCA subsequently organised a replacement race – the Vendée-Arctic-Les Sables d’Olonne – but we made the decision not to participate. At that stage, we hadn’t had enough time on the water and had some concerns over the route, and the possible danger it opened us up to with the boat.
Then, when it came to the Defi Azimut, we felt that our time was best spent out on the water training and refining, rather than travelling to France to compete. For us, it was all about optimising the time available.
How is HUGO BOSS handling? Have you made any significant upgrades to the boat?
It’s a pleasure to sail this boat, it really is. The new HUGO BOSS is a huge step forward from the previous in every way possible. The decisions we’ve made have made a big difference when I’m sailing single-handed, which is exactly what we’ve designed the boat for.
Our new foils are now in, we’ve made some structural reinforcements, and we’ve worked hard to optimise the layout and ergonomics in the cockpit area. This means that now everything I need is within reaching distance in the cockpit, where I should, in theory, be warmer, dryer and more comfortable, which means I should perform better.
What are your biggest strengths for competing in the Vendée Globe?
Experience. As a team, we’ve been trying to win this race for about 17 years, so this challenge isn’t new to us. This is my fifth Vendée Globe so I take some comfort from the fact that I’ve been on that start line before and I’ve made it to the finish.
Having done the Vendée Globe before, what are you expecting from the race?
I’m expecting it to be brutal; that’s the reality! These boats are built for speed, not for comfort.
The Vendée is relentless. It’s an exercise in self-management from start to finish.
How has technology in the race evolved over the years?
The technology has certainly come on leaps and bounds. These boats are so technologically advanced today, it’s phenomenal. But those technological advances have also meant that the sport has become even more physical for the skipper. And so managing yourself – as well as the boat – becomes perhaps even more important than ever before.
Your sailing career to date has notched up a few highlights. Where would a victory in the Vendée Globe sit on that impressive list?
To have finished the last two editions of the Vendée Globe in third and second place, for us there is only one goal and that is to win. If we were to do that, it would be a lifetime ambition realised for me, certainly, but also for many people within this team.
Follow Alex Thomson on board HUGO BOSS in the Vendée Globe via alexthomsonracing.com/the-hub