Sailor pops the question at Cape Horn

Global Challenge goes News of the World

Tuesday December 7th 2004, Author: Camilla Green, Location: none selected
A romantic British sailor competing in the Global Challenge proposed to his girlfriend today as they rounded Cape Horn. It is thought to be the world's first-ever engagement made by one competitor to another during a major sporting event.

Graham Thompson, 31, from Crawley, is currently competing against his future wife, Laura Alexander. Despite their rivalry on the water, the couple, en route from Buenos Aires to Wellington on the second leg of the 30,000 mile race, were united briefly as Graham surprised Laura with an offer of marriage over the VHF radio of his yacht, Pindar. Laura, 30, from Basingstoke, who is competing on BP Explorer was sailing just 10 miles away from Graham at the time when she agreed to be his wife.

The romantic nature of the moment was not helped by the race’s rules which require the radio to be on an open frequency at all times, meaning that all 12 boats and 216 competitors in the race, as well as the event organisers in the UK, were able to listen to Graham and Laura’s conversation.

Graham had planned the engagement during the recent stop-over in Buenos Aires at the end of first leg of the race. As well as buying an engagement ring in Argentina, he had secretly informed David Pugh, 44, one of Laura’s crewmates, about his plans, and Pugh was tasked with presenting the ring to Laura at the vital moment.

Graham, who had successfully managed to keep his planned proposal secret from Laura, even went to the trouble of ringing her mother, Valerie Alexander, from the middle of the ocean prior to popping the question to ask for her consent. Thankfully, she was delighted to hear the news and happy to give her approval.

The engagement is particularly poignant as the couple first met in the stopover in Sydney during the 2000-2001 Global Challenge. Graham was in Sydney to watch his father, who was a competitor in the race, while Laura was a project manager for another team. However, it was only when they returned to the UK that their relationship really blossomed. They both separately decided to further their sailing skills in an attempt to compete in the current race and ended up in Southampton on the same sailing course - the rest is history.

Graham has already made provisional plans for the wedding to take place in Sydney during the third stopover of the race where they first met four years ago. Both of the couple’s teams will be invited to attend, and Graham’s 16 crew mates from Team Pindar have already volunteered to swap their foul weather gear for morning suits to be ushers on the big day.

The fleet of 12 yachts are expected to arrive in Wellington, New Zealand by 9 January 2005.

Graham Thompson commented: “Today has been the greatest, but most nerve-wracking day of my life. Most sailors approaching Cape Horn have a sense of fear, but I had two reasons to be a little apprehensive!

It was amazing; the crew were all cheering when she accepted and I was so happy - I wanted to give her a hug! I know it was a pretty unorthodox way of proposing but we have both been working towards this race for so long and rounding Cape Horn is such a significant landmark for sailors that I decided that it was the perfect place to do it – no matter what the conditions and no matter how many other people were listening. But even though I was on a boat in the middle of the ocean dressed up in foul weather gear I made sure I was still down on bended knee! I’m just so glad she said yes, and now I can’t wait to reach Wellington to see her - we both just have the small matter of crossing the Southern Ocean first.

"Although this race is the toughest challenge I have ever undertaken, I have found that the sailing is not the hardest part. I can cope with that, but having to say good bye to Laura at the start of each leg is the bit I can’t cope with. We’re so in love and we can’t wait to get married.”

Laura Alexander added her ha'penth: “It has been an amazing day. To round Cape Horn and get engaged all in the space of a few minutes was unbelievable. It was slightly strange when one of the crew got down on one knee as I was sitting at the navigation station - I thought it was some kind of practical joke. The next thing I knew was that Graham was on the radio and he was asking me to marry him, then I was handed a ring and at that point I knew it was for real.

"It’s remarkable how much he had planned and thought about this and he even managed to keep it a secret. I have, of course, accepted and couldn’t be happier. The only thing that will make this leg even better is if we can beat them into Wellington!”

We will no doubt read more of the gory details in the British tabloids tomorrow. (PS: Congratulations once again the team at Pitch PR)

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