Two days after finishing second in the Vendée Globe, British skipper Alex Thomson is recovering well in the start and finish host town of Les Sables d’Olonne on the west coast of France. He has been enjoying family time, taking every chance to spend some hours with his young son and daughter in between resting and completing a whirlwind schedule of media interviews.
When he joined Vendée LIVE in French and English today, he enthralled a ‘standing room only’ packed house comprising local ‘Sablais’, French and international Vendée Globe fans, with his ready wit, his frank and full answers and his undimmed passion for the legendary solo non stop race around the world. Thomson confirmed today that he intends to do the race again in 2020, looking to add a win to his third and second places but only if he can put together a fully competitive programme. On a lighter note Thomson told how, the morning after finishing his gruelling 74 day race, he took his kids to the swimming pool of his hotel to be greeted in the water by his rival, race winner Armel Le Cléac’h who he had been racing head to head with him for 90 per cent of the 27,000 mile course. Before he moves forward with the next phase of his racing career, Thomson will take a holiday….sailing in the Caribbean.
The Hugo Boss skipper laughed: “My wife has booked our dream sailing holiday together in the Caribbean. She has promised we have double beds, flushing toilet and fridge, freezer and lots of beer and rum. We are off to do that.” Having now had a little time to discuss future Vendée Globe plans with his wife Kate and his core team, he is keen to complete the story with a win: “Third last time, second this time. It is obvious what we need to do. What I need to do is to have a competitive campaign to do it again and the level of commitment from my family, from my team, from my team’s families. It means we need the right funding, but the most important thing is the people and the very next thing is the funding.” Reviewing the emotional videos of his finish and return into the famous Les Sables d’Olonne channel, Thomson explained: “For me in the race I always feel it is very important not to think about the finish until it happens. Anything can happen right up until the finish line. Mike Golding lost his keel 50 miles from the finish. Even when I am 20 miles away, I am still not really telling myself I am about to finish. All the emotion, all the work you have put in, all the stress, it is not really over until that line. And then it just feels like the responsibility is lifted off your shoulders. I am not even sure you are really aware of the responsibility. Having to sleep with one eye open, you are constantly thinking of what can happen next.”
Of his ‘decompression’, his recovery since finishing he said: “It takes a few months to recover. I will be a few months in the gym. My gluteus maximus has turned to a gluteus minimus. I have got no quadriceps muscles any more. I am in pain walking around. Physically it is going to be lot of work. I am sleeping quite well. I normally sleep for only one or two hours for quite a long period after the race. I feel pretty exhausted. I really felt like the tank was empty this time. I actually have put weight on my stomach. My weight will have dropped though because you lose big muscles like your quads and your glutes, my legs are terrible, there is nothing there. One of the problems I did not tell people about is where the jib sheets come down through a block on the deck, the pulley where the rope does a 110 degree turn, stopped working about six weeks ago. And so I was dragging the ropes through the sheave. And I actually feel like my shoulder has moved forward in the socket.”
Speaking to Rich Wilson, the skipper of Great American IV, Thomson paid tribute to the American’s excellent energy generation systems, a combination of wind vane, hydrogenerator and solar panels which mean that he has barely used any diesel. “I used 200 litres of fuel,” said Thomson who fought energy generation issues almost all the way through his 2012-13 race, rebuilding hydrogenerators and struggling for long period with very limited energy, hence his choice to go ‘belt and braces’ with diesel this time: “I had a tiny solar panel and my hydrogenerator was a back up. Mainly we were using diesel. But if we do another one I would to do it with using zero fuel. I love what you are doing and particularly what Conrad is doing. I think we should be going around the world without using any fossil fuels.” And he expressed his belief that the Vendée Globe should remain open and inclusive: “I think one of the great things is the amazing characters. If it was not set up the way it is then we would not have a Rich Wilson, we would not have had an Enda, we would not have a Sébastien Destremau. I think if there were 30 of me and Armel it would be a bit boring. Nandor Fa is extraordinary. To have a man who designed his own boat, who built it himself and is in eighth place. I have a real soft spot for him.”
The use of foiling appendages is in its infancy in the IMOCA 60 class which the Vendée Globe is raced in. Thomson want to see the class make the right decisions in the immediate future, to continue to develop fast, safe boats but considering costs and speeds relative to non-foiling boats: “We have just scratched the surface. The foils on our boat and those on Banque Populaire are slightly different. We were slightly better downwind but we were not so good in other areas. It was not a golden ticket. But we did go a very long way in a very short period of time. We have got longer. Our version 2 foils broke within three days and, yes, there will be a version 3 in due course. But we need to look at the data and see what we can do. There is an annual general meeting of the class in April. That will decide what the rule is. What is important is that we have a rule. It does not matter what it is. I think we need to be careful not to have a rule which makes what we do quite inefficient and very expensive. Like the America’s Cup. When they designed the boats they did not want them to foil, but Team New Zealand found how to make them foil, but in a very inefficient and almost dangerous way. I think that is what we need to do with IMOCA. We need to think about the costs too. There are seven boats foiling and on average each boat building two sets of foils. These foils are costing three or four hundred thousand pounds a pair, plus the cases. We don’t want the gap between the well-funded teams and the other teams to be too big. There is a lot of work to do. I sit on the executive committee of IMOCA, Armel Le Cléac’h is on the team, and Jéremie (Beyou).”