Alex Thomson reflects on a doomed race

Maverick sailor Alex Thomson has vowed he will return to the Vendee Globe in 2012. The news came as he reflected on the run of bad luck he suffered in the latest edition of the race.

‘The forecast for the start of the race was not filling anyone with confidence, Force 7 on the first night and a Force 9-10 on the second evening. No matter how well prepared you are the start of the race is very daunting, its the first day of 90 and with so much time, effort and money gone into this one moment it is difficult to focus on the job in hand. I started the race completely exhausted I thought I was in good shape but within hours of the start i had serious instrument and pilot problems and although i was muddling through it, i was not racing the boat, simply surviving!

‘Sleep was virtually impossible with so many boats around and the dangers of shipping and fishing boats very prevelant on my mind. Hearing that Bernard Stamm had been hit by a ship made me feel sick, and i felt so sorry for him as this was his third Vendee in a row where his dreams had been shattered. The first night was not made any better when one of my ballast tanks carrying 1.5 tons of water discharged itself into the boat, over the engine, generator and other important ‘dry pieces’. In fact the bilge pump could not work as that was under water and i had to use the speed of the boat and a ballast scoop to control it. In normal conditions it would not take too much time to clear up but in a Force 7 beating upwind it was a four hour slog whilst already shattered.

‘The following day brought a brief respite before being clobbered by Force 10 winds and six meter waves but to honest i felt in the groove then and was making back the few miles that I had lost. When the weather front went through and I tacked the sea was awful and for hours I had to keep the speed down and the storm sails up. Even at four knots of boat speed the boat was crashing heavily over the waves. It sounds horrendous I know and it was, but these were by no means the worst conditions that i have faced in this boat and I was comfortable with what was happening, and despite my continuing instrument and pilot issues I was confident that the conditions in the coming days were going to suit HUGO BOSS and we would ‘light up’ and make some miles.

‘Six hours after tacking and with the sea calming down, i went below and noticed some water on the leeward floor. I assumed i was having a similar issue with ballast and could not understand why it kept coming, it was then that I saw a small fountain of water coming from what appeared to be a crack in the floor. Emotion was short lived because immediately I had to stop the boat, investigate and get on the telephone. I knew it was bad and I felt so gutted for all the work that so many people had put in to get us to the start line, it felt so unfair and so harsh but that was where we were. It was quickly decided that I should sail back to Les Sables and look at repairing and getting back in the race, and I felt so useless in that 36 hour period getting back to Les Sables. I had also found strips of six metres of carbon streaming out the back of the boat and my mind was awash with the potential damage underneath.

‘It was strange to motor back into Les Sables, it was not the return I had imagined at the end of the race, but I was met by a team that despite working 24 hours a day for the last three weeks was ready to fix and send me out again. The emotional and physical pain that my team had gone through – and they were there ready to do it all again. Simply amazing!

‘You will see that I often flick from ‘I’ to ‘we’ in my reports and that is because although solo sailing is considered an individual sport it is in fact a team sport and i consider myself to be a small cog in a huge wheel. The wheel was in motion but when the boat was lifted out it was immediately obvious to the boatbuilders, designers and engineers that there was not a quick fix and I knew I was out. We were all so desperately disappointed, we had all been through so much, and my body gave up and I slept.

‘Four years of hard work down the drain, wasted, destroyed in an instance, or is it? No not in my eyes. My sights are already firmly set on the next Vendee Globe which currently feels a long way away but it will come around quickly and we will be there in better shape and even better prepared than last time. Our planning starts now, we have not left the last month behind, but with positive thoughts and a strong achievable goal the healing process will be quicker.’