Around the world in 80 days: Alex Thomson finishes third in gruelling Vendee Globe race

British sailor makes history after completing the 28,000-mile, three-month solo race

Finishing the 28,022 miles of the Vendee
Globe tells its own tale. Stare into the competitor’s eyes and you see
adrenalin-pumped elation, then sheer relief and finally weariness.

Today Alex Thomson trod that well-worn emotional path after circumnavigating the world single-handedly at his fourth attempt to finally join one of sport’s most select clubs. Arriving in France to an uproarious welcome, he also had the satisfaction of knowing he was, by eight days, the quickest Briton ever to complete the distance. He rounded the world in that most mystical of times, 80 days.

Well 80 days 19hrs 23 mins to be precise, which was still three days behind the winner, Francois Gabart. Thomson, but worth €75,000 of prize money.

There to meet the 38-year-old from Gosport was wife Kate and two-year-old son Oscar. “It feels great, it really does. This is my third Vendée Globe experience [he also competed in the Velux 5 Oceans challenge], three times I have left, but only once have I returned at the end and this way is great. The crowds in the harbour to welcome me back, suddenly make it all seem worthwhile.” 

“I have sailed the boat at 100 per cent., and I think I have done a good job. “There was never a moment when I thought I wouldn’t finish,” said Thomson who sailed in the 60ft Hugo Boss.

And the best times? Not the sunrises, not the bright stars or flying fish and dolphins. “The great moments are when the position reports come in and you are making miles (on your competitors) and the bad moments are when you are losing miles. For me, I am in this for the competition. It’s brutal, it’s tough and the positives are when you are doing well.” 

His first request, perhaps understandably, was for a good meal although not perhaps the one many would assume. “I would murder for a cheeseburger,” said Thomson. His wish was duly granted although not they type he wanted. He would have preferred a Big Mac. “I’ve been dreaming of the arches,” he added.

The team mantra for Ellen (now Dame) MacArthur when she came second and shot to fame in 2000-01 was “singlehanded but never alone”. But, mainly, they are alone. Delegation is not an option, there is no-one to say “take a break mate and let me fix it.”

Thomson is now the third Briton to claim a top-three finish in the race after Ellen MacArthur, who was second in 2001, and Mike Golding who finished third in 2004. Golding finished sixth in this race.

Before leaving, Thomson had said he never had any motivation problems when it comes to tackling jobs. But these are not undertaken in the dry warmth of a well-lit garage. The floor is heaving up and down, crashing off the top of a wave into the trough in front, spraying icy cold water all over you, and your numb fingers burn with the cold.

He had trouble with water-powered electricity generators, taking only enough fuel to charge all the electronic instruments and self-steering equipment for half the time, and had to mend a rod which linked the twin rudders, but the boat was and is in good shape.

He has been backed by UK America’s Cup team owner Sir Keith Mills, also a former deputy chairman for London 2012 of LOCOG, and a current director of Tottenham Hotspur. “This is the culmination of 10 years of work by Alex and the team around him,” he said. “This was the dream when Alex and I first started to talk about short-handed ocean racing.

“It’s been a remarkable journey and I have been on the ‘phone many times in the middle of the night about catastrophes that have befallen Alex but he has played this one perfectly.

“There might be a Bradley Wiggins factor involved as the French are so dominant in this game and there might be an Ivan Lendl factor as the management structure is unrecognisable from 10 years ago. Stewart Hosford and the shore team have done a fantastic job, taking some of the management responsibilities off Alex’s shoulders and he would not be where he is today without them.

“At 38 he is 10 years older now, he’s a dad, and everything is now a team decision, but he still has the killer instinct. I am sure they are going to go on to greater things. This is a very emotional morning and there have been a few tears in our eyes.”  

The Kiwi commentator Peter Montgomery is credited with dubbing the desolate wastes of the Southern Ocean which girdle Antarctica as “the liquid Himalaya” but the summit is thousands of miles away up the North Atlantic in the little fishing port of Les Sables d’Olonne on the armpit of the French Atlantic coast south of Brittany.

In some ways Thomson’s journey has taken nine years. His first attempt at the race ended in failure in 2004 when the boom broke off the mast and punctured the deck. Then, in another roundt he world race in 2006, he had to be rescued by Mike Golding after being hit by keel failure 1,500 miles south of Cape Town. There was more disappointment in 2008 when, making final adjustments prior to the start of the Vendee Globe, he was hit by a fishing boat. Despite a desperate attempt to repair the damage and making the start he quickly had to pull out. 

The 2012-13 Vendée has seen him come of age and complete a passage which earns him the right to claim to be top British dog on the world solo racing circuit, though Brian Thompson could give him a run for his money.

“Whatever else, this bodes well for future British challenges in the Vendée Globe,” added Sir Keith.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
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

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas