Sailing: Thompson's tough private education

Boyish enthusiasm faces stern test as three round-the-world voyages beckon in next 18 months

Alex Thompson is in slow-burn mode as he lines himself up for a 31,000-mile solo trip around the world. He still has a boyish grin, is full of enthusiasm and proud that he is physically fit, but he also now sees himself as a shrewd operator.

The 32-year-old from Gosport, on the west side of Portsmouth harbour, exploded like a firecracker over the Mount Olympus of singlehanded yacht racing, the Vendée Globe non-stop round the world, in 2004.

He had a distinctive sponsor in Hugo Boss; the television presenter Davina McCall, whose father, Andrew, has strong connections with both yacht racing and Portsmouth, was on hand to perform launching ceremonies; and David Coulthard, the Formula One driver, turned up both to lend support and race the boat. Behind the scenes, Thompson had the patronage of Sir Keith Mills, who was instrumental in the London Olympic Games bid.

Off Thompson went at 100mph only to be felled by the crash and burn of a major gear failure, retreating wounded to Cape Town only a quarter of the way round. Apart from a dismasting it was, he says, his only failure, and it has changed his attitude.

He still insists he would prefer to be described as a young turk rather than seasoned pro, and he does not feel any older than when he first came to prominence. But he quietly acknowledges that he went at what was his first big chance on the world stage a bit like a bull at a gate. "Perhaps naïve is the right word for it," he says. He is in Bilbao waiting for the start in two weeks (22 October) of what is now the Velux Five Oceans Race.

It started life as the BOC Singlehanded, became Around Alone and this time, in its toughest form, is a three-leg affair which first takes the fleet of mainly Open 60 yachts to Fremantle, then round Cape Horn and back up the Atlantic to Norfolk, Virginia, before the closing sprint back across to Bilbao.

Thompson is one of a lead quartet in what is a gruelling challenge - the first leg is 13,500 miles, the second over 15,000. He faces tough competition from fellow Briton Mike Golding and Switzerland's Bernard Stamm.

Then there is the wild card of a 67-year-old Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, determined to defy the ravages of anno domini and his lack of racing experience in the Open 60 yacht, renamed Saga Insurance, which is so different from the old-fashioned 31-foot Suhaili in which he became the first man to sail solo round the world non-stop in 1968-69.

If Sir Robin is trapped by his old-salt image, then Thompson is bound to live up to an expensively cultivated sailing celebrity role, which he has to tone down behind the scenes. This is not a vital stepping stone for Thompson, who has already secured funding for a new boat to be built this winter under the supervision of Jason Carrington at Neville Hutton's yard in Lymington, at the bottom of the New Forest.

In a punishing schedule, Thompson is then due to do the double-handed, non-stop Barcelona Race around the world in 2007, when his partner will be the Australian navigator Andrew Cape, followed by the singlehanded non-stopper, the Vendée Globe, in 2008.

When he says that finishing the Five Oceans is more of a priority than winning it, he is telling the truth. Five months of constant publicity for Hugo Boss is worth more than four weeks of pyrotechnics.

But three times round the world in little more than 18 months is the stuff which turns blond curls to grey. Thompson will be on a fast-track collision course with Saga.

He will also be using this first race to learn more about what he wants from the new boat and, from the Barcelona gig, more about the tactics of racing navigation and weather.

He must love it? Well, no. "I struggle with the thought of doing it," he says. "You have to have your head straight and be in the right mindset. I mean, who wants to spend 50 days at sea alone? It is the little things that get you. There are no shared experiences, no one to have a laugh with. I do like to have a laugh on a boat."

The party line takes over for a moment when he says, "When I do it, I really enjoy it", but is quickly dropped when he adds, "It ends up being a bit like a job". And the counterbalance to all the communications chores of blogging or recording interviews is "contact with my mates. That's the bit that keeps me sane. I phone up my mates".

So, are we to believe that Thompson is off on a sort of public relations cruise round the world? Forget it. "The needle is most definitely there," he says.

Sport
Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi during Barcelona training in August
footballPete Jenson co-ghost wrote Suarez’s autobiography and reveals how desperate he's been to return
News
newsMcKamey Manor says 'there is no escape until the tour is completed'
Voices
Hunted: A stag lies dead on Jura, where David Cameron holidays and has himself stalked deer
voicesThe Scotland I know is becoming a playground for the rich
News
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Architect Frank Gehry is regarded by many as the most important architect of the modern era
arts + entsGehry has declared that 98 per cent of modern architecture is "s**t"
Arts and Entertainment
Soul singer Sam Smith cleared up at the Mobo awards this week
newsSam Smith’s Mobo triumph is just the latest example of a trend
News
Laurence Easeman and Russell Brand
people
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has refused to deny his involvement in the upcoming new Star Wars film
film
Sport
football
News
news
News
people

Britain First criticised for using actress's memory to draw attention to their 'hate-filled home page'

Arts and Entertainment
A photograph taken by David Redferm of Sonny Rollins
people
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Senior Research Fellow in Gender, Food and Resilient Communities

£47,334 - £59,058 per annum: Coventry University: The Centre for Agroecology, ...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker