‘Race within a race’ ensures Alex Thomson finishes 3rd

‘Race within a race’ ensures Alex Thomson finishes 3rd

Friday February 1 2013 Author: Caterham Composites Location: France


Fast, faster, Alex Thomson.

Leaving Les Sables d'Olonne, France on 10th November 2012, Alex triumphantly arrived on 30th January securing third place. He was obviously thrilled, but so were the crowds of family, team, business partners and fans waiting for him on dry land.

During the 80 days 19 hours 23 minutes  43 seconds race Alex faced some major technical and personal challenges. The hydrogenerator broke, which also damaged the steering mechanism. However, the shore team in the UK, in collaboration with technical partner Caterham Composites [CC], supported Alex with his repair job and came up with a solution. A few weeks later Alex [AT] hit an unknown floating object and broke the hydrogenerator yet again, this time causing some more extensive damage and the prospect of a serious power shortage. This situation would have ended his race, if it had not been repaired. Simon Clarke, Boat Captain of Alex Thomson Racing explains why the hydrogenerator is essential "as the boat moves through the water, [it]spins the propellor and generates electricity". Its main purpose is to supply power for the autopilot as well as the communication computer, which is crucial for weather forecasts, consulting with the shore team or simply a motivational lift through talking to his family and friends.

After talking to his shore team, Alex decided to only run his instruments and autopilot using his diesel reserves until the broken hydrogenerator was fixed to continue the race. It became a race within a race. The shore team and Caterham Composites worked closely together, to support Alex in making a complex repair, while in the middle of the ocean, while losing the minimum amount of miles to the competitors.

Alex used a lot of his diesel reserves, repaired the broken hydrogenerator and returned safely to the harbour of Les Sables d'Olonne. Alex often says that it is 'about finishing'. After two failed attempts, it was an emotional finish for him. And yet, in spite of the incidents and repairs, he did more than merely finish. He came third out of nineteen skippers entering the race - a staggering result, considering his boat is not one of the newest generation boats .

As one of Alex Thomson Racing's technical partners, we had the honour of an exclusive interview with Alex Thomson shortly after the race. Many of our fans and followers were keen to get to know the story behind the scenes. We chose some of your best questions and put them to Alex.



CC: Finally, you've finished the Vendée Globe after two unfortunate attempts. How do you feel?

AT: I have to admit all the adversity was worthwhile. 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.

CC: You faced some tough challenges during your 80 days. What went through your mind when the damage occurred?

AT: I always 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. I guess it seemed like it dragged on and on and on whereas, for me, I just had to wait.

CC: What is the general procedure for this kind of problem? How does the communication line work?

AT:  We have a finely tuned crisis communications procedure that we put into action when any significant event occurs.

CC: Jean-Pierre Dick and Marc Guillemot lost their keels in this edition and it appears that keels falling off is an issue that this class has never properly addressed. What should be done?

AT: Create a technical working group of sailors, designers, engineers. Put everything on the table and short it out once and for all before somebody gets seriously hurt. One design isn't needed for this class, but strict design rules and criteria are, particularly of these critical items.

CC: Do you think the technological advances in motorsport have supported and will continue to support development within the marine industry and vice versa? 

AT: The technologies are similar in both sports but the key difference is reliability. Motorsport learned faster than we have that constantly high rates of attrition are not sustainable for races and particularly for sponsors. What Caterham Composites have done is brought in processes to our team that focus on making the components and therefore, the boat more reliable. As Sir Robin Knox-Johnston always told me "to finish first, first you have to finish".

CC: How did you come up with the course you chose? Did you consult with the team or was it up to you? 

AT: Part of the rules of the race are that I have to make all my course decisions on my own. This is done through weather files we receive every 6 hours. This goes into my routing software which will give me several options, this data along with satellite images gives me the information I need to pick a course.

CC: Can you say anything about the future relationship between Alex Thomson Racing and Caterham Composites? 

AT: Unfortunately, I cannot say anything about it at the moment. However, I am very keen to discuss future projects with Caterham Composites.

CC: So now that you've finished the Vendée Globe 2013, what are your next plans? 

AT: I don't know yet. I think I will take a rest after this. I want to spend time with my son, Oscar and my wife, Kate. Kate asked me on the boat not to commit to another Vendee Globe right away… so we will have to see. 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.

CC: Anything else you'd like to say to your fans, family and friends?

AT: 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. So I'd like to thank everyone who has supported me in this race.

- Ends -

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