Tuesday 07 September 2010
Professional yachtsmen go to extreme lengths to save time, with comfort usually the first thing to be sacrificed in the quest for speed. Alex Thomson’s sleek, ultra modern racing yacht is no exception. “There’s no cooker,” he says of his 60-foot monohull HUGO BOSS, “no toilet, and there are no beds.”
Danger, however, is ever present. In his brief but stellar sailing career, the 36-year old British sailing prodigy has racked up an impressive litany of near-death experiences. He’s been smashed into by a French fishing trawler, broken masts, snapped his keel in the treacherous Southern Ocean and been rescued by fellow round-the-world racers during the Velux Five Oceans race. Footage of him leaving his stricken vessel during the latter incident shows Alex cracking with the strain. "This is probably the hardest thing I will ever have to do in my life," he says, tearfully leaving his broken boat to the mercy of gigantic swells off Australia. "This boat has been my life for the last three and a half years and it doesn't feel right to be leaving her behind."
Clearly, getting his next boat right was going to be crucial. "When you build a boat and start sailing, you go out and you try to break it," he says today. "When you break it, you fix it, you hear the creaks and the groans and then you carry on doing that, literally breaking it in." Even for an experienced sailor, it can be scary stuff. "On one particular occasion we were just off Argentina in 40 knots of wind with probably a bit too much sail up," says Alex. "We went off a wave at about 27 knots into a hole and the boat fell flat down - bang! - flat onto what felt like concrete. I thought it was game over."
After surviving such rigorous testing, the new multi-million HUGO BOSS IMOCA 60 was launched at a star-studded event in May 2010 by no less than Helen of Troy herself: actress Diane Kruger. For the youngest skipper to win the Clipper Round The World Race in 1999 at the age of 25, this new, more-powerful boat offers unlimited potential. With one eye on the 24-hour record (“we broke that with real ease,” he says of his 501-miles in 24-hour achievement in 2007), Alex is also looking to take his carbon-fibre hull on a record-breaking trip around the world. Will it be difficult? “You come out of France,” laughs Alex, “turn left at Africa, go around Antarctica, right at America and come back to France again.”
Perhaps he’s taken a leaf out another British icon’s book. “There is no time for ease and comfort,” said Winston Churchill, “it is time to dare and endure."
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