Thomson touches down
Thomson first set the British sailing scene alight in 1998. At just 25 years of age he skippered the yacht Ariel to victory in the Clipper Round the World Race, becoming the youngest man ever to win a round the world event. Ariel dominated the race, winning 13 of its 16 stages.
In 2000 Thomson was at it again, winning the Round Britain and Ireland Race, smashing the record set by his former employer, Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, by more than a day. By 2003 he had his own Open 60, Sill Enterprises, setting a new 24 hour distance record for a single-handed monohull of 468 miles, averaging 19.5 knots throughout the day. “The boundaries are there to be pushed and you get on and do it,” Thomson says. “I didn’t know if the boat could do it but I knew I could.”
Thomson was last in Australia in 2002, having founded the charter racing company Formula 1 Sailing that gave amateur sailors a chance to race alongside professionals in serious offshore events a year earlier on a chartered Farr 60.
“I had one guy in 2002, an Australian working in London who came over,” Thomson recalls. “I asked him where on the boat he wanted to work. ‘On the bow with Bass Strait waves coming over me,’ he said.”
2002 was arguably the gentlest in the race’s history. Thomson hopes things are a bit more exciting this year. He concedes that Open 60s don’t like going to windward much, they rate badly, (“these are as un-IRC as you get”), and would need extraordinary conditions to give the more conventional IRC boats a run for their money on handicap. But they are exhilarating and loads of fun when the wind picks up.
“I can be in 25 knots of wind, doing 20 knots, and still stand in my cockpit drinking a cup of tea. It’s ridiculous, “ he says.
This race is serious business, part of a preparation that will culminate in a new boat and the Vendee Globe in 2008.
Thomson has committed to three circumnavigations over the next three years. The Velux 5 Oceans single-handed which begins in Bilbao in October 2006, the doublehanded non-stop Barcelona World Race in 2007, and the Vendee Globe in 2008.