Alex Thomson’s dreams of winning the 2020 Vendée Globe are over, after Hugo Boss suffered rudder damage on Friday evening (27 November)
The enormously popular skipper has announced that he is retiring from the Vendée Globe, and is currently heading to Cape Town.
Speaking from Hugo Boss today, a clearly emotional Thomson said: “It’s taken me a few days to digest what’s happened and gather my thoughts. I’m normally a very positive person but if I’m honest right now I feel pretty broken.
“For the best part oft 20 years this race has been my goal; we’ve come pretty close before and this time I really thought it was possible. I have the boat of my dreams, we put together a campaign I’m extremely proud of and despite the setbacks of the last week I still thought it was possible – to win, or at the very least finish.
“I’ve given my life to this sport and it’s a very difficult pill to swallow.”
The rudder damage came just hours after Thomson reported that Hugo Boss was back up to full pace and heading into the Southern Ocean, following lengthy repairs he had made to the internal structure of the IMOCA last week.
After discovering cracking to some of the longitudinal structures in the bow area last week, Thomson consulted his team on how to make an effective repair and worked through the nights from Sunday to Thursday to effect a complex jigsaw of carbon plates and laminate to reinforce the area. He had confirmed that he and his team were confident in the repairs and that he was back in race mode, only to suddenly lose steerage shortly after.
“I was averaging 21 knots, flying the small gennaker and one reef in the mainsail,” Thomson reported. “I was down below when there was a huge bang and the boat broached violently. The steering system was jammed and all I could do was roll the sails away.
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“Once on deck I could see the rudder blade was broken and swinging around with a large piece of fishing gear jammed into the cracks. So I think I must have hit something. It certainly looks that way.
“Now I am having to keep the boat flat while I sail the boat now with just one rudder to Cape Town.”
With the rudder damage deemed irreparable, Thomson had no option but to announce his retirement from the Vendée Globe, a decision he described as ‘heart-breaking’.
“This sport, and this race is just so tough, things can change so quickly, but that’s the beauty of it and it’s so challenging and that’s why I’ve given a large part of my life to it,” he said today.
“The messages of support from the fans have just been incredible, I really don’t feel worthy.
“But also from the other skippers and the teams, your words have really touched me, I sincerely hope you all make it safely to the finish.
Many of his Vendée Globe competitors voiced their shock and sadness at Thomson’s news. Journalist and solo skipper Fabrice Amedeo, who is racing in 25th place, expressed many in the sport’s thoughts when he sent a message saying:
“The Vendée Globe has lost one of its favourites. But our race lost more than that. Alex has revolutionised our sport: his boats are always the most beautiful and are one step ahead of those of his competitors. Alex modernised communication in sailing by exploding all the barriers: Keel Walk, Mast Walk, Sky Walk. He is unique in our sport.
“The Vendée Globe needs Alex Thomson’s victory. I hope it will be 2024. And on top of all that, Alex is nice and he is modest. The race loses not just a favourite but also today, a great man. I wish the best to him and his whole team.”
Thomson’s departure from the race will be a big blow to the Vendée Globe’s international appeal. He is the only other non-French skipper to have equalled Ellen MacArthur’s famous 2nd place in 2001, when he finished 2nd in the last race having sailed much of the race with a broken foil. On top of his 3rd place in 2013 this makes him the most successful British entry in the Vendée Globe, as well as the most experienced (this is his 5th attempt).
Thomson is also the British skipper who has most successfully bridged the gap between sailing and mainstream sports and news coverage since MacArthur. During the 2020 Vendée Globe he vlogged from the race, showing off Hugo Boss’s multi-directional cameras to show fans a panoramic view of the race.
The team had installed a data ‘Hub’ on their website to share statistics such as boat speed, heel angle, decibel levels, even the skippers’ heart rate and the amount of sleep Thomson had managed. It was typically professional, addictive stuff and absolutely brilliant at communicating the sport of offshore racing to followers who have never experienced it.
But whilst Thomson may be a brilliant communicator, he is above all a competitor and his gut-wrenching disappointment at having to step out of the race he had spent two decades trying to win is clear. His voice cracked as he said:
“To my team, thank you for your dedication, your hard work, I know you couldn’t have done more. But also to our partners, you’ve worked tirelessly with us, and you’ve shown such dedication, such loyalty.
“I couldn’t quite make history this time around but I can tell you I gave it everything, everything I’ve got.”