Vendee Globe: Alex Thomson third place in Les Sables d’Olonnee Globe: Alex Thomson third place in Les Sables d’Olonne
Wednesday, 30 January 2013
Alex Thomson sailed into the legendary canal, the artery into the heart of Les Sables d’Olonne this morning at typically breakneck speed. With more than 30 kts of wind and mountainous seas Thomson was in no mood to hang around.
Taking third place in the Vendée Globe, the solo non stop race around the world which has dominated his life for the last ten years and which he had twice failed to finish, Alex Thomson set a new non-stop round the world record for a solo British sailor, smashed the existing race record set by Michel Desjoyeaux in 2008-2009, and became only the third ever British skipper to finish on the podium.
His result exorcised many of the ghosts of his past failures, most particularly abandoning his Open 60 in 2006 in the South Indian Ocean when his keel feel off during the Velux 5 Oceans, retiring from the last two Vendée Globes – the 2008-9 edition after just 24 hours – and retiring from the 2009 Transat Jacques Vabre after hitting a floating object.
After 80 days at sea Thomson finally enjoyed the traditional Vendée Globe welcome afforded by the thousands who lined the banks of the canal. Three times he has loved the rousing send off on start day, but at last this was the welcome back that he had craved since he first set out on his Open 60 ocean racing career back in 1999.
In a warmly received press conference Thomson was thanked for his recent actions in moving to stand by friend and rival Jean-Pierre Dick, shepherding the French skipper who has lost his keel off Virbac-Paprec 3, through a night of brutal winds and big seas before heading north to the finish.
He spoke of the vital repairs he had to make to his hydrogenerators which kept his hopes of finishing alive, of the pleasure in staying with the faster, newer generation of IMOCA Open 60’s, doggedly hanging on the leaders. And at the end of it all, having finally realised his long held ambition, he made his French hosts smile when he confirmed that he had arrived dreaming only of ‘the golden arches’ longing for a Big Mac and lots of mayonnaise!
Was there a problem with your main sail?
No. Two and half days ago I gybed to come into Les Sables d’Olonne and the forecast was for two periods gusting 50 knots and given that I had just had to finish, with the big waves it was just easier to take the mainsail down and I didn’t have to worry about any accidental gybes.
Does this result make all the adversity and all the hard times worthwhile?
Absolutely, I have spent ten years of my life and ten years of my teams life trying to finish and do well in the Vendée Globe and today is a BIG day for our team. I am very proud of the way the boat was prepared apart from the problems I had with the hydrogenerator. I had very few other problems. I feel like I got the most out of the boat. I feel like I did a good job and that’s important.
Do you have any thoughts on François Gabart’s race?
It’s incredible to do the race in 78 days. Denis Horeau, the Race Director asked me if 77 days was possible and I said, ‘don’t be ridiculous’. But what a great team, Michel Desjoyeaux has basically done it again. I feel for Armel Le Clèac’h coming in second. He should be very proud. He made few mistakes. I feel very honoured to be here in third place after these two great guys.
Did you talk a lot with Mike Golding during the course?
No, Mike and I haven’t had very much contact at all. The first contact was by email just off the coast of Brazil and we have exchanged three or four emails since then. I had an email from Alessandro. When I am in a race it doesn’t feel right to have small talk with the other skippers. In the beginning, in the first month you are so busy you don’t really have time to contact anyone.
As you have had so many problems with your hydrogenerators and Javier Sanso is sailing successfully with no fuel, using solar panels, would you consider a solar panel solution for your next campaign?
Generating power is extremely important on an IMOCA Open 60 Javier Sanso is leading the way for our boats to become clean and it’s very admirable of him. When the next Vendée Globe happens we will look at solar, hydro, wind. We will look at all the options available and come up with a solution that will maybe get us all the way around the world most efficiently. That’s what we did this time. For this race, for us to go solar would have been a risk. We chose a solution that had some miles. We chose hydrogenerators that had been around the world already and we had heard good reports. We felt that we were taking a conservative option. I think we as a team made the right choice to take enough fuel for half the race. I still have a few litres in the boat. Maybe I went too heavy. Next time, we’ll just have to look. The great thing is that Javier is out there testing a solution. To be able to go around the world with no fuel will be a remarkable achievement.
Now that you have ticked the box of completing the course, is it now your ambition to win the Vendée Globe and bring the crown back to Great Britain in 2016?
Competing in the Vendée Globe and being part of a team that aspires to be in this race is all consuming. You give up your life to be able to do it and there are some fantastic positives with it and there are also some negatives as well. I love doing it and I couldn’t imagine doing anything else. Whether I do 2016, I don’t know but I am sure that I’ll do the Vendée Globe again.
We hear an awful lot about the hard days but can you tell us about the great days and what goes on in them?
I love the special moments when the sun comes up, the stars are really bright, I love seeing the dolphins, the flying fish. That’s all cool. I like it but the great moments are when the scheds come in and you are making miles. And the bad moments are when you are losing miles. For me I am in this for the competition. It’s brutal, it’s tough and the positives are when you are doing well and that’s why I am in it.
Obviously you had issues with your hydrogenerators, did you ever think that you would not make it round? Tell us about your mindset when you were having to go through it all.
I knew that I would get around the world. There was never really a moment when I thought I wouldn’t get round. There were several stages each time I had a problem. First, of all get the boat back on the track and stop losing miles and then work out how to fix the problem afterwards. The second time it happened I was in the Southern Ocean so that making a repair in the next month or so was going to be very hard and I guess it seemed like it dragged on and on and on whereas for me I just had to wait. There was never a time where I thought I wouldn’t finish.
What is the best memory you have from this round the world race?
“The best memory from this round the world is to finally arrive in Les Sables d’Olonne and see the welcome. When you describe the start of the race they cant believe it, but so far I have never been able to describe the finish and I look forwards to now being able to tell people about it now.”
Will you learn to speak French for the next Vendée Globe?
I did take a French language CD with me on the computer, and they are still there! I ran out of power.
What advice would you give to young skippers looking to set out on a path to the Vendée Globe?
In England we are very fortunate in having the Artemis Academy for short handed sailing. They have supported it well, there are some good people coming through the ranks and I sincerely hope we see some more British entries coming through in the next Vendée Globe. But the popularity of what happens here is very different to what happens at home in Britain. And I was very lucky this race with our team, we managed to hook up with the BBC once a week and I spoke live with seven million people in the UK, and hopefully if we can increase the popularity and get more media coverage at home then we are more likely to have more international skippers in this race who are able to enjoy Les Sables d’Olonne’s hospitality
What has made the difference in terms of the lower attrition rate this time, does improved preparation contribute?
For me preparation is everything. In the last Vendée Globe we had 30 starters and 11 finishers and I think we all said that was not acceptable. That was too many people dropping out. The big difference between this and the last race is the level and professionalism of the preparation. And I know today we still have nine boats still on the course. We have had three accidents, two of them extraordinary with other boats and one with a floating buoy, so actually today only 25% of the boats of the Vendée Globe have not finished because of technical problems. I put most of that down to preparation. It is a real credit to the skippers, the teams, IMOCA and I am sure the organisers of the Vendée Globe must be very happy with the situation today.
Just describe how tough you found the race?
I think the hardest part of the race was from the start to Cape Horn. For me the Southern Ocean is so tough but the first part is so hard because you have not raced for weeks. Everybody is ‘balls to the wall’. Everyone is 100% and you just do not sleep. You struggle to sleep. And then you cant wait to get on the highway on the Southern Ocean, and you get on the highway and you remember how bloody dangerous it is down there, how isolated it is, how scared you are and that for me was the toughest part of the race.
And did you feel disadvantaged not to have a newer generation boat?
I have to say I did find it frustrating at times that every time I would get to a position which was good that they would just sail away from me. But that was a choice. We made a choice over the last four years and it was the wrong choice. And so we did not have a new boat for this edition. On the other hand for the first five weeks of the race I was in the lead group. And the way it made me feel better was I was thinking that the other skippers would be thinking ‘when is he ever going to bugger off’, why is he still here?’ I feel like I sailed my boat to 100% of its potential. I feel like I did a good job. I made mistakes but I feel very satisfied with that.
What was you arrival like, it is something new for you?
When I was coming in to the finish and the first boat came out and beeped a horn, I did not know what to expect after such a long time, but when you enter that canal with all those thousands of people who have made the effort to come and appreciate the effort you have done, you feel really good in your heart. And it makes it very easy to come back to lots of people.
And the level of stress for you, does it rise proportionately through the race?
For me the level of stress is high right at the beginning. You are not used to it. You have been sleeping in beds for too long. And there are lots of boats around and you just go, go, go. The first part of the race is most stressful. And for me, in particular, the Pacific Ocean was very stressful, just because of the weather conditions.
There have, again, been some keel problems, what do we need to do?
In the last Vendée Globe we had a problem with keels, and we thought we had fixed the problem, Unfortunately it seems we still have a problem and we need to sort the problem. To me it is not acceptable to have keels fall off boats any more. In the old days, not that long ago, keels used to stay with the boat for the whole of their lives. Now it seems it seems like keels are more disposable than their masts. So I really hope that after this race, when IMOCA sits down that we take some sensible decisions and make the keels last forever. Just to be clear I am not being critical of any team or any skipper. The problem is as skippers and teams we are trying to find an advantage where it is not interesting, there is too much risk involved. I hope we end up in a situation where developing keels and adding risk to our adventures does not happen.
And what are the plans for the future, for 2013 and 2014?
I don’t know yet. I think I will take a rest after this. We will sit down with our sponsors Hugo Boss and finding out what we do in 2013. We are not too sure at the moment
You wanted a cheeseburger on your arrival, was that the sweetest cheeseburger you have ever had?
It was a cordon bleu cheeseburger, it really was fantastic. But I have to say I wanted a Big Mac. I have been dreaming of the Golden Arches
Audio Interviews with Team Hugo Boss:
Sir Keith Mills, Backer Alex Thomson
Stuart Hosford, CEO AT Racing
Ross Daniel, Technical Director, AT Racing
David Thomson, brother of Alex Thomson
Last Updated ( Wednesday, 30 January 2013 )