James Boyd Photography / www.thedailysail.com

Alex Thomson and Hugo Boss complete the podium

British skipper finishes Vendee Globe on third attempt

Wednesday January 30th 2013, Author: James Boyd, Location: none selected

Alex Thomson crossed the Vendée Globe finish line at 07:25:43 (UTC) this morning after 80 days 19 hours 23 minutes 43 seconds at sea. He finished 2 days 18 hours and 7 minutes behind François Gabart taking third place in the singlehanded non-stop round the world race.

His final race time is 80 days 19 hours 25 minutes 43 seconds. His average speed around the course was 12.6 knots although he actually covered 28,022 miles at the average speed of 14.4 knots.

After Ellen MacArthur and Kingfisher's second place in 2000 and Mike Golding's third aboard Ecover in 2005, Alex Thomson becomes only the third British skipper ever to finish on the Vendee Globe podium. But his time surpasses that of the Golding's previous British solo race record from 2005 by 7 days 19 hours 52 minutes. After winner Francois Gabart and second placed Armel Le Cleac'h, Thomson has also smashed the previous race record of 84 days 03 hours 09 minutes set by Michel Desjoyeaux and Foncia in 2009.

Third Time Lucky Thomson’s Third

The mantra pre-start which Alex Thomson never stopped repeating was that his main goal was just to finish this Vendée Globe. By finally completing his first ever non-stop circumnavigation in third position, the Hugo Boss skipper broke the run of bad luck that had plagued his two previous Vendée Globe campaigns. His podium finish also shows the British skipper is as combative and quick as ever.

Regatta time

Despite the fast rhythm the leaders imposed on the race, Thomson showed he could handle speed and transitions. Never far away from the front runners, he definitely led the race of the 'older generation' IMOCA 60s, sailing his Hugo Boss at a sustained high speed.

One of the signs showing Alex was immediately in full regatta race mode is the claim he filed against some other skippers for not following the official rules of the race regarding the Finisterre Traffic Separation Scheme. Even though the same claim was perfectly justified and filed jointly with the Race Direction, it was met with some misunderstanding. Alex would have to wait to bury his punchy reputation as something of a renegade, but with this result he has been warmly applauded for his great result with a boat, which is not of the latest generation.

Express repairs

Thomson’s race has been nothing short of exemplary. Despite technical problems on his Farr-designed yacht, he managed to hang on to the leaders. Right after the Doldrums, the mounting bracket of one of his hydrogenerators came undone and broke the tie bar that keeps the two rudders connected. It was a key moment for the British skipper - who is not exactly renowned for his boat building skills. But he had to fix it fast or run the risk of letting the fleet leaders break away. He turned his autopilot on and, while the boat was progressing at an average speed of 18 knots, he not only set up a composite material workshop on board and proceeded to repair the bracket, but also made a short, informative video report of the repair. And despite this he therefore stayed in contact with the leaders, entering the Indian Ocean 150 miles – less than half a day – behind them.

A light foot in a lead shoe

The Indian Ocean turned out to be a rite of passage for Alex, whose reputation had always been the one of a sailor who pushes his boats hard, sometimes too hard and beyond their limits. He showed he had learned to curb his impulsiveness. His smart approach and choices allowed him to never get outdistanced by the frontrunners and stay a few miles behind Gabart, Le Cléac’h, Dick and Stamm. He obviously learned from his previous races and stayed in the race until he finished on the podium.

Radio silence

But that did not mean Alex’s troubles were over, as the British sailor had to face hydrogenerator trouble again, forcing him to either repair at all cost or forget about finishing his round-the-world race. The Hugo Boss skipper therefore decided to drastically limit his communication with the outside world, a real sacrifice for a man who is always in need of expressing his feelings and exchanging with his family and friends. He did not give up, though, and after rounding Cape Horn, he finally managed to successfully carry out the necessary repairs. He was still in fourth place and sailed through the Doldrums with his sights set on one thing and one thing only: Coming back on Jean-Pierre Dick, 150 miles ahead of him.

A noble gesture

When Jean-Pierre Dick lost his keel on Monday, 21 January, he also put Thomson in the spotlight. The Virbac-Paprec 3 skipper was getting prepared to face gale force winds off the Azores when Thomson decided to change his heading and stay close to Dick in case his keel-less boat capsized. Having lost his keel in the South Indian Ocean in 2006 and been rescued by fellow competitor Mike Golding, Thomson fully empathised with the situation and said later there is no way he would have considered leaving Dick to his own devices. By doing so, the British sailor also let go of the hope of sailing around the world in less than 80 days. But by finishing the Vendée Globe on such a noble note, Thomson achieved something even more important than breaking a record: he won a place in the public’s heart and in the race history.

Race Statistics:

Longest distance covered in 24 hours: Thomson 477.14 miles (12/12/12)
545 miles at an average speed of 22.7 knots of François Gabart. (10/12/12)
Les Sables to Equator: 11 days 02 hours 34 min c/w 11 days 00 hours 20 min
(Jean Le Cam’s 2004-2005 record: 10 days 11 hours 28 min)
Equator to Good Hope: 12 days 09 hours 59mn
(JP Dick’s record: 12 day 02 hour 40min)
Good Hope to Cape Leeuwin: 18 days 16 hours 23 min c/w 11 days 06 hours 40 min (record)
Cape Leeuwin to Cape Horn: 8 days 16 hours 23 min c/w 17 days 18 h 35mn (new record)
Cape Horn to Equator: 14 days 00 hours 17 min
Equator to Les Sables: 12 days 4 hours 32 min

Our interview with Alex follows later...

 

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