Hampshire sailor Alex Thomson onboard Hugo Boss was one of 29 sailors taking part in the gruelling Vendee Globe solo, non-stop around the world race.
He smashed race records but his hopes to win the race, which would have made him the first British skipper in the race’s 27-year history to do so, were dashed as he came second to Frenchman Armel Le Cléach.
He crossed the line on 20th January 2017, 15 hours, 59 minutes and 29 seconds after le Cleac’h who set a record time of 74 days, three hours and 35 minutes.
Thomson sailed 27,636nm in the race at an average speed of 15.39 knots, at times hitting more than 30 knots.
“Finishing this race is a result, but second is fantastic,” he said.
“I finished third last time so it’s definitely a step up but it wasn’t quite the first I was after. I’ve probably slept about five hours in the past three days and I haven’t slept at all in the last 24 hours so I was running on the final bit of adrenaline left in my body.”
“I’ve spent 70-odd days on my own and suddenly there’s hundreds of people here and when I go in to the channel there’s probably going to be hundreds of thousands. It’s an amazing contrast and it’s a wonderful way to finish.”
He is expected to race again in 2020: “Third, second, then it has to be first. I can’t leave it just at second, I would never be satisfied with that.”
Thompson’s race – the final few days
Thomson has been playing catch-up since Le Cléac’h took the lead on December 2 but as the race enters its final few days he has transformed from the chaser into the hunter, ruthlessly stalking his French rival in the hope of being able to deliver the killer blow before the race is up. The British skipper delivered a timely warning to French skipper Le Cléac’h today when he smashed the world record for the greatest distance sailed solo in 24 hours. Hugo Boss skipper Thomson maintained a staggering average speed of 22.4 knots in the 24 hours leading up to the 0800 UTC position update to notch up 536.8nm. The distance breaks the 534.48nm record set by François Gabart in the 2012-13 Vendée Globe that he went on to win, beating Le Cléac’h by just three hours. He actually beat Gabart’s record two weeks into the race, sailing 535.34nm in 24 hours, but the rules of the record state it must be superseded by one whole mile. Thomson previously held the record between 2003 and 2012 with a distance of 468.72nm. The new record will now be ratified by the World Sailing Speed Record Council.
Frustratingly for the battling duo, despite already reaching the latitude of the finish line in Les Sables d’Olonne, France, they are being forced to sail much further north due to an anticyclone currently blocking their path home. The routing the pair must follow could take them as far north as the Scilly Isles, an archipelago off the coast of Cornwall in the south-west of Britain, before they can tack and finally point their bows towards the finish.
In the last 24 hours, Hugo Boss skipper Thomson has scythed another 10 miles off Le Cléac’h’s advantage, and at the 1400 UTC position update was doing 20.4 knots compared to his French rival’s 19.7. But even at that rate he will not be able to reduce the deficit enough to overhaul Le Cléac’h before the finish line. Thomson’s hopes of becoming the first Brit to win the Vendée Globe in its 27-year history lie in tactics, namely the precise moment to tack and head for Les Sables. Although the advantage is now firmly with Banque Populaire VIII skipper Le Cléac’h the race will not be over until the finish line is crossed. Indeed, in the 2004-05 Vendée Globe fellow Brit Mike Golding lost his keel 50nm from the finish line and had to limp home in third place at two knots. The current ETA for the leaders is Thursday, with the routing suggesting Le Cléac’h will cross the line between 1200 and 1400 local time followed closely by Thomson.
Thomson revealed that for several days he has been battling problems with the wind instruments on his cutting-edge 60ft race boat Hugo Boss, which in turn have prevented the yacht’s autopilot from working properly. In spite of knocking miles off Le Cléac’h’s lead overnight he said he had not slept for two days and was now dangerously tired. Speaking to the Vendée Live show today Thomson said his thoughts were on getting Hugo Boss’ anemometers working again rather than the impending finish in Les Sables d’Olonne, France. “I don’t think I can catch Armel,” he said. “The routing is very clear – we will go nearly to the Scilly Isles, wait for a left shift and when it comes we tack. There are no real options for me any more, I think my options have run out. It might be possible to catch a few miles but it’s difficult for me at the moment. Until I can get my autopilot driving on a wind angle it’ll be very tricky in the conditions I have. I can’t imagine another few days like the last couple of days. I don’t have any tension about the finish. I have tension about trying to make the autopilots work. I’ve got an anemometer in my hand and I’m trying to splice wires. I don’t care about the finish right now, I just want to sleep.”
Other race records
He reached the Cape of Good Hope in 18 days three hours and two minutes, beating the previous race record to this milestone by four days 20 hours and 44 minutes.
The former record of 22 days 23 hours and 46 minutes was held by skipper Armel Le Cléach on Banque Populaire in 2012.
He also broke the Equator to the Cape of Good Hope record, passing in 8 days and 20 hours. The record of 3 in 12 days 2 hours and 40 minutes was previously held by Jean Pierre Dick in 2013 on Virbac-Paprec.
The Vendee Globe
The race, started in 1989, takes place every four years. It has historically been dominated by the French and Thompson was the only British entry for 2016/2017.
Only 71 of 138 sailors to date have ever finished the Vendée Globe.
The race can take around 80 days to complete.
The 2016/2017 race started on 6 November 2016.