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.

Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol
art'Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' followed hoax reports artist had been arrested and unveiled
Life and Style
tech

Board creates magnetic field to achieve lift

Voices
Stephanie first after her public appearance as a woman at Rad Fest 2014
voices

Arts and Entertainment
James Blunt's debut album Back to Bedlam shot him to fame in 2004
music

Singer says the track was 'force-fed down people's throats'

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
peopleJust weeks after he created dress for Alamuddin-Clooney wedding
Life and Style
A street vendor in Mexico City sells Dorilocos, which are topped with carrot, jimaca, cucumber, peanuts, pork rinds, spices and hot sauce
food + drink

Trend which requires crisps, a fork and a strong stomach is sweeping Mexico's streets

Arts and Entertainment
George Lucas poses with a group of Star Wars-inspired Disney characters at Disney's Hollywood Studios in 2010
films

George Lucas criticises the major Hollywood film studios

Sport
football West Brom vs Man Utd match report: Blind grabs point, but away form a problem for Van Gaal
Arts and Entertainment
Bloom Time: Mira Sorvino
tvMira Sorvino on leaving movie roles for 'The Intruders'
Arts and Entertainment
Leonardo DiCaprio talks during the press conference for the film
films

Film follows park rangers in the Congo

Arts and Entertainment
Gotham is coming to UK shores this autumn
tvGotham, episode 2, review
News
i100
Sport
Adel Taraabt in action for QPR against West Ham earlier this month
footballQPR boss says midfielder is 'not fit to play football'
News
First woman: Valentina Tereshkova
peopleNASA guinea pig Kate Greene thinks it might fly
Voices
Chris Grayling, Justice Secretary: 'There are pressures which we are facing but there is not a crisis'
voices

Does Chris Grayling realise what a vague concept he is dealing with?

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

Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album