The BOSS on the bricks

16 Nov

Damage to the bow of Hugo Boss after grounding
Dramatic and heart wrenching news was delivered early this morning stating that the British sailor Alex Thomson, who was leading the IMOCA class in the Route de Rhum race from France to Guadeloupe, had run aground. After sailing a flawless race since leaving Saint Malo in France 12 days ago, Thomson aboard his yacht Hugo Boss ran aground on rocky cliffs at the north end of Grande Terre island on Guadeloupe around 21:45hrs (local time/0145hrs UTC Friday). It’s not clear why he was in so close but one can only imagine his exhaustion after a very challenging sail across the Atlantic. The good news is that Alex was able to start his engine and back off the rocks with some damage to the boat, but a lot less than it might have been. A grounding is a harrowing experience and one can only imagine how this must have felt after sailing such an impeccable race.

Now here is where it gets interesting. Alex was able to sail the final 50 or so miles with his damaged boat and was first across the finish line off Pointe-a-Pitre winning the IMOCA class. However because of the grounding and the fact that he used his engine to get off, an international jury has awarded him a time penalty of 24-hours. That seems a bit harsh in my opinion but there you go. The interesting part is that the French sailor Paul Meilhat on SMA, currently sailing in second place is just 125 mies from the finish sailing at 16 knots, and Yann Elies is just 15 miles astern of him. If the breeze holds up (and it didn’t for the Ultimes) these two boats could knock Alex out of the top spot into third. That would be terrible news for Alex and I will be gutted if that happens, but those are the rules and it is what it is. He made his point by sailing an almost perfect race and in the minds of many he will be regarded as the true winner.

At the post race press conference Thomson was composed but clearly shaken by the grounding. “It’s a real shame for me and the team to be in the position that we are in,” said Thomson who has been third and second in consecutive Vendée Globe solo round-the-world races. “The jury has decided that I have a 24-hour penalty which will mean I will not win the race. How do I feel about that? Well I think that is very fair because I don’t think I should win the race after hitting Guadeloupe.” This was greeted with spontaneous applause from his audience. “This sport is about detail and, in the final last minutes, I didn’t get the detail right,” he said. “Like I say, to be last night grounded on the rocks, I just feel very lucky to be here with the boat with very little wrong with it – a few holes but I sailed here under my own steam so I feel very fortunate.”

Damage to the starboard foil

Alex was brandishing a piece of rock that he must have found inside the boat which he said would be a souvenir of his collision with Grande Terre.  He explained that he had gone to sleep knowing he would soon come close to a gybe point off the coast. However a wristwatch that he wears that is designed to give him an electric shock to wake him, failed to go off because it was out of charge and he slept through the audio alarm.

“I slept through – I didn’t hear it – and when I woke up the alarms were going and the boat was strange,” said Thomson. “I went up on deck and I could see Guadeloupe – I didn’t know it was Guadeloupe – I couldn’t understand what was happening until I looked at the chart and then I could see I was on Guadeloupe…haha…I had arrived!”

Thomson could have been forgiven for struggling to keep his composure, but he did that and not only spoke fluently but saluted Meilhat who at that stage had about 150 miles to go on a boat that does not have foils. “I hope Paul will win,” said Thomson, his voice momentarily cracking. “You know, he has done a really great race on a boat without foils and I look forward to welcoming him tomorrow. He should be the winner.”
“For me,” he continued, “All I can do is live and learn – it’s the land of hard knocks as we say in England. You have to try and stay strong; you have to learn, you have to be better and ultimately, obviously, I wanted to win this race. But the aim is to win the Vendée Globe and I think I’ve proved in this race that I can win the Vendée Globe.”

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Brian Hancock – Owner Great Circle Sails

This article was syndicated from Great Circle Sails Blog

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