Alex Thomson: “The boat is faster, but I can’t fall in love with it”

After a major pre-race refit Alex Thomson’s IMOCA 60 Hugo Boss has gone back in the water recently as the final build up for the Barcelona World Race start on 31st December counts down. 

Interviews OCT 25, 2014 02:04

The boat which has been updated to conform with the new IMOCA rule was remeasured accordingly and then at the end of this month it will be sailed to the Mediterranean where it is planned that Thomson and race partner Pepe Ribes will fine tune their training and preparations, interspersed with times at home with their young families.

Alex’ baby daughter Georgia was born four months ago and the British skipper has been enjoying being with her and his family before he sets off on his next round the world race.

There will be some performance gains with the new rule but the main thing we have been concentrating on has been reliability. For example we have changed the backstays system, we have completely surveyed and tested the mast and reinforced it in places and so it should be safer and less prone to breakage. We have completely replaced all the keelbolts as a precaution and fitted a new engine.” Thomson offers.

Although ultimately Alex sat out June’s New York to Barcelona race, staying home for the birth of his daughter, he is content that he and Ribes have sailed enough miles together. “You’d always like to have done more, that is in the nature of it, but I’m happy.” He says.

Previously they have sailed to Poland and back and across the Atlantic.

Basically I did everything except the race and so that must be around 10,000 miles.”

Hugo Boss is the VPLP-Verdier design which was previously Jean-Pierre Dick’s Virbac-Paprec 3, which won the last edition of the Barcelona World Race, and Thomson cherishes many of the features of the new boat, but it is no love affair!

The boat is definitely faster and that is what counts. It is a lot stiffer as a composite structure and you feel it, it feels faster. But I can’t fall in love with it. I do like the old boat. This boat has less protection, though I do like being able to drive from inside the pod.”

Alex states that he very much enjoys the sociability and the companionship of two handed sailing, and each of his partners has been different in terms of personality and sailing skills.

Ribes is of course Spanish – like their Barcelona World Race rival Guillermo Altadill with whom Alex finished second in the 2011 Transat Jacques Vabre – but they are different individuals, as Thomson considers:  

Their culture is essentially similar. They are both very tough and hard working and both come from the Volvo which means they are used to ‘taking it’ (staying on deck taking the weather and sea’s punishment) while I like a bit of shelter, but the similarities end there. Guillermo is much more expressive, so you know very quickly when he is not happy. He is more Latin if you like. And Pepe is not quite so. Sailing wise Pepe is more new school, very up to date with everything, more numbers orientated and driven, Guillermo is much more by feel and more ‘seat of the pants’.”

With Pepe I think we are pretty equal in terms of how we will work the boat. If a decision needs to be made one of us will make it. He is quite extrovert and I am sure we will challenge each other.

Of course it will take some work. All relationships need work to flourish.” Thomson asserts.

The British skipper says he learned so much from his third place in the last Vendée Globe, the solo race non stop around the world, a result he had put more than 10 years of his life into achieving. But he does not think the upcoming Barcelona World Race will be any less intense:

It will be as intense, but in a different way. With two you push that much harder, there is less risk and it is way more fun. I really think it will be very close between the first four boats.”

He is very much looking forwards to this race having been sidelined during the last one. Each race brings new learning:

He smiles: “I learn race by race. As you get older you certainly become more attuned to what is going to happen or what might happen. On the Vendée Globe I learned a lot about carbon repairs. Hopefully with Pepe as the boatbuilder then I won’t be doing that this time!”.

What I like about the Barcelona World Race is that it is properly international and it is double handed. These things are important to me.”

And as for his rivalry and friendship with Neutrogena’s Guillermo Altadill:

Let’s just say we have to beat him. He may be from the same team and is a good friend but we are out to beat him. Team orders? There would never be any. And can you really ever see Guillermo following them!?!”.