Alex Thomson is a British Sailor, and one of the most talented yachtsmen of his generation. Already the youngest ever sailor to win a round the world race, Thomson has three world records to his name. Now, he hopes to add Vendée Globe success to his resume, an accolade which has thus far proven elusive to all British Sailors. Ahead of this year’s Vendée Globe, Thomson shares his thoughts on his career to date and how he feels to be taking on ‘the Everest of sailing’ once again.
My passion for water sports began at a young age. It all started when I tried windsurfing at 11 years old. From my first time out on the water I just felt at home. From there, I tried any and all watersports, including kitesurfing, wakeboarding and, of course, sailing.
The love of adventure
When it comes to offshore sailing, for me, it is the extremity of the challenge that appeals so much. In areas like the Southern Ocean, the waves can be half a mast high and you’re completely isolated. There are no rescue services, fishing or shipping boats. If something happens, you really are on your own.
Taking on ‘the Everest of sailing’
Finishing third in the 2012-2013 Vendée Globe is my proudest achievement to date. The race is a solo, unassisted round the world mission, which takes place every four years and in my opinion it remains one of, if not the, toughest sporting challenge there is. People often call it ‘the Everest of sailing’. To put this into perspective, over 3,000 people have climbed Everest and less than 100 people have completed the Vendée, so being amongst that short list of people is something I am proud of. During the Vendée Globe, you can’t stop or take anything on board the boat for the entirety of the 12 week race. It’s not only about racing and about competition; it’s about survival.
A brand new boat
My team and I spent two years designing and building a new IMOCA 60 race boat, HUGO BOSS, which I will sail around the world in the Vendee Globe. The boat is just 2.75mm thick, which a lot of people can’t quite believe when they hear it has to make it around the world. Since unveiling the boat, we’ve had to really put it to the test. Reliability is incredibly important, and so we’ve had to break the boat again and again and again, in order to understand where its weaknesses lie and how to overcome those challenges. All of this knowledge and information will prove vital when I’m out there on my own during the Vendee.
When I’m away, I miss family life, especially now that my wife, Kate, and I have two children. Although I’m able to speak with them during the race, communication can be unpredictable. I can be out on the boat talking to Kate on the phone one minute, and suddenly a big gust of wind comes and she might not hear from me next for hours to know I’m OK. In that way, it’s just as hard for Kate as it is for me. As I now approach my ninth round the world race, the time apart from my family doesn’t get any easier, but it is the challenge, and the reward at the end, that drives me on.
The Vendee Globe has never been won by a British sailor, and so that has always been my biggest ambition. Winning the race would, without doubt, be the pinnacle of my career to date.
Inspiring a generation
I hope I can inspire others to get into sailing. The best advice I can offer is to just get yourself out on the water and practice as much as possible. There are sailing clubs up and down the country welcoming new and experienced sailors alike, so there is plenty of opportunities for you, like me, to follow your dreams.
sailing Images by Mark Lloyd. Profile portrait by Yves Sucksdorff.