By Tessa Walsh and Alexander Smith
GOSPORT, England (Reuters) – British sailor Alex Thomson is not only aiming to win the next single-handed Vendee Globe, the 44-year-old has set his sights on the fully-crewed Volvo Ocean Race too after a rule change.
To get closer to this goal, Thomson, whose accomplishments as a solo yachtsman and daredevil stunts for his sponsor Hugo Boss have won him global recognition, is building a high-tech 60-foot IMOCA yacht, which will take 40,000 man hours and a year to complete.
“I get five million pounds to build what I consider is the best toy in the world, so I feel very privileged to be able to do what I do,” said Thomson, salt water still matting his hair and beard after his foiling monohull hit speeds of 29 knots (54 kilometres per hour) during recent testing on the Solent.
During this outing, the sleek, black, carbon-fibre hull with its dark sails tore menacingly across the waters off the south coast of England, surf breaking over its bows and washing back over its decks, drenching Thomson and the crew in its cockpit.
Thomson, who is one of the fastest sailors on the water, came second in the last Vendee in 2017, losing out to French sailor Armel Le Cleac’h after sailing much of the race with a damaged starboard foil.
With four attempts at the gruelling event already under his belt, Thomson is looking to become the first British sailor to win the French-dominated race.
“I was third in 2012, and second last year so there’s only one place to go,” Thomson told Reuters.
First Thomson and his team must complete his new yacht which is 2-1/2 months into its build at Hythe, Hampshire. The radical new design is due to be ready next June, giving Thomson 18 months to prepare for the next Vendee which starts in November 2020.
Thomson is acutely aware of the need to balance speed with reliability after twice failing to finish the 27,000-mile race.
As vice president of IMOCA — the International Monohull Open Class Association — and president of its technical committee, Thomson has helped to push for changes to the class that aim to make races more environmentally friendly and the boats more reliable and safer for skippers.
His new boat aims to use no fossil fuel in the next Vendee and will rely on a combination of wind, hydro and solar power instead, after a change to the class rules.
For Thomson, July’s decision by the new Volvo Ocean Race management team to use the IMOCA class for its next event opens up a new world to one of the most experienced single-handed yachtsmen on the water.
“Absolutely that’s our ambition, to do the next Volvo Ocean race in 2021,” said Thomson, adding that the shift could prompt significant changes and shorten the 10-month race, cutting the high cost of entry and competing.
“If you get the economy of the teams right, everything else will fall into place,” he added.
Before launching the new boat, Thomson will be sailing solo again after “Hugo Boss” has been refitted and he is hoping to win the Route du Rhum from Saint Malo, France, to Pointe-a-Pitre, Guadeloupe, in November.
“It’s one of the most famous French races and I’ve never done it before and I very much want to win it.”.
Asked what keeps him motivated, Thomson grinned.
“This is a total machine, you’re on the edge of being in control all the time. I very much enjoy it and as long as I’m still enjoying it and my family can put up with it, I’ll carry on doing it.”
(Editing by Clare Fallon)