Thomson and Cape almost achieve perfection

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The Independent Online

Under the gaze of the statue of Christopher Columbus, which echoes the Trafalgar Square eyrie of Lord Nelson, Alex Thomson and his co-skipper Andrew Cape should, in time for breakfast this morning, bring their Open 60 Hugo Boss into the welcoming pontoon at the end of the Barcelona World Race.

Their second place in the two-handed non-stop round the world race, which started just yards away last November, has earned them, says the Australian Cape, a nine out of 10. "I take one away because we are not first," say Cape, who moves on to another circumnavigation of the globe in October with the American entry, Puma, in the Volvo Ocean Race, which features 11 host ports.

A month later, Thomson also starts again, from France this time, in a solo non-stopper, the Vendee Globe, perhaps the world's toughest ocean racing challenge. This was the one in which Ellen MacArthur made her name when coming second in February 2001; Thomson would give a lot to emulate that; and would give his eye teeth to go one better. Last night he was in high spirits, not least because he has successfully made it all the way round after twice making it no further than Cape Town. In his first, 2004, attempt at the Vendee his boom broke; in the 5 Oceans last year his keel was in danger of parting company with the old Hugo Boss and British rival Mike Golding in Ecover turned back to rescue him. The reward for that piece of selfless seamanship was for Golding then to be dismasted but to be recognised with an OBE.

At least Thomson is sure that his new boat is on the right track. Cape, surely a major steadying influence in making sure that Thomson makes it from start to finish, also gave nine out of 10 for the boat, designed by Frenchman Pascal Conq and built by Neville Hutton in Lymington at the bottom of the New Forest. There is already a list as long as both arms of modifications and repairs to make the boat both faster and more reliable. Two of Thomson's greatest rivals, Vincent Riou and Roland Jourdain had to retire from the Barcelona with mast failure. He avoided that, but had to pull into Wellington for repairs to the rudders and he will want to address any performance weaknesses in light winds.

"The second great bonus of this race has been to know that the decisions we made two years ago were the right ones," he said. "We will start some work in Barcelona and then sail to Portugal for a complete refit before doing a singlehanded run across the Atlantic to qualify for the Vendee," he said. "Breaking so much has been the best possible thing for the Vendee." Going back to singlehanded sailing is what he always planned, but it has been enjoyably different being double-handed. "It has made a big difference being able to drive the boat harder and having to share the ups and down," he added. "I've enjoyed this more than any singlehander, we are in good shape, even after a rough final five days, we set a new 60-foot monohull record of 500 miles in 24 hours and, were it not for the 48-hour stop for repairs in Wellington it would have been game on.."