Alex Thomson: "My biggest fear will be not to finish"
© Vincent Curutchet / DPPISo Alex, how do you feel?
What are your best memories so far as a skipper?
I think a big memory for me was breaking the 24 hour record. I’ve done it twice, one solo and one in double. Doing more than 500 miles in one day, was a good day. My solo record has been holding for nearly ten years now.
It was a great recognition...
Not so much recognition, more of a personal thing for me.
And what would be your worst memory?
Stepping off my boat into a life raft in 2006.
Where did you get this passion for sailing?
When I was eleven, I was into windsurfing and I developed from there. I think I am a very determined person, so short-handed sailing- one person or two people – it teases my character.
“Go for the Vendée”
When did you decide to sail for a living?
I tell people in 1995. I became an apprentice at the sailing course. My job was unblocking the toilet, climbing the mast and cleaning the bridges. Even though I was in the job and I was considered a professional, in my mind I still thought I wasn’t. It wasn’t a job for the rest of my life. Then in 1999 I did the Clipper Round the World Race, and before the race I said to myself: “if I win this race, I’ll carry on”. (Note: he actually won the race)
Did your family push you?
At the beginning my father said I should get a proper job (laugh). But in 1999, after winning the Clipper Race, it was my commitment that I was going to carry on and go for the Vendée.
Did they all agree with your decision?
There wasn’t anything to agree on. My father is a great sailor, my brother has done a round-the-world race with the Class 40’ and my sister used to work in that field too. So it’s kind of enough. They love to come to the start, they enjoy it as well.
How do you manage your family life?
Before the baby, before I was married, my personal life was low on priority and my work was high. Now I’ve just balanced it more. My number one priority in life is to provide for my son and my family. As long as I know this and my wife knows this, there won’t be any problem.
Do you think you are going to encourage your child to follow your path?
My wife says he is allowed to go sailing but he can never go too much offshore. I feel responsible... You know kids always want to follow their fathers and because our family is so much into sailing – my nephew is also crazy about sailing – who knows what can happen. But at the end of the day if he is happy, then I am happy.
“It’s the most difficult sporting challenge in this planet today”
© Vincent Curutchet / DPPICan you describe the race in your own words?
I think it’s the most difficult sporting challenge that exists on this planet today. More people have been out in space, more people have been on Mount Everest. There are few people that do what we do.
This is your third Vendée Globe, what are your goals?
Just to finish. I think if you finish you have a chance to win. I have to finish.
Are you feeling a little revengeful about what happened to you in your previous Vendée Globe? Do you want to be able to say: “I have done it”?
It’s for me, not to say it out loud. I’ve invested ten years of my life in training to win and compete in the Vendée Globe. I’ve faced my highs, many lows. And in some ways the lows are better than the highs because you learn more. You never know if this is going to be my last Vendée. I hope not. I just want to be able to say: “I’ve sailed around the world on my own. I was number 18 or whatever the number is”. That’s what I do. And it’s important, not only for me, but my team, my family, the sponsors. The last time was terrible (laugh). (Note: Alex had to withdraw).
Are they some places you cannot wait to sail in again?
I have never seen the Cape Horn on the Vendée… (laugh). As a sailor, as soon as you start, you cannot wait to get into the Southern Ocean. And then when you are in the South for two or three days, you can’t wait to leave. So the thing for me is entering the Southern Ocean and then leaving the Southern Ocean as quickly as possible.
Do you have any fears for this coming Vendée Globe?
I think my biggest fear will be not to finish.
What is the relationship with your sponsor Hugo Boss like?
It’s been pretty good. We have been working together for a long time. Next year it will be ten years, it’s a long relationship. We trust each other, they love short-handed sailing, they love the human story, they love the drama, they love the fact that this sport inspires other people and thankfully they like me as an ambassador. I feel very privileged…
“When it’s challenging, I like it!”
© Christophe LaunayOne particular thing about the Vendée Globe is that you race in solo and you are going to spend Christmas and New Year Eve by yourself. How does it feel like?
I used to find it acceptable, but now I have a baby who will be two in January. So I am going to miss Christmas with him. But to be honest, it doesn’t matter when you have a birthday or Christmas, what is happening everyday is the same when you are alone in the ocean. You just focus on that, sometimes you feel a little lonely. But “c’est la vie”. It’s the way it is, you can’t change it.
A three-month race is a long time, how do you deal with loneliness?
I don’t find that I am lonely too much. Nowadays with the telephone, Skype and everything you have regular contacts with people. You said three months is a long time mate? Can you think about what you did in the last three months? How quickly did these three months go? Just gone!
What do you do when you have no winds and nothing to do?
I just keep focused and I get on with the job. That’s what I am meant to do. I don’t have a particular desire to spend three months on my own, whether I’m on the sea or on the land. I’d rather be with people. I like to do it because of the challenge, because it’s so hard. You know, when it’s challenging, I like it!
In your everyday life onboard, how do you manage your food, hygiene and sleeping time?
I don’t have a strict regime. I just do it when I need it. If I need food, I eat. But I am very aware of how much I have to eat in one day. And it’s really important for me to eat that food because it’s very easy to make big mistakes. I’ve become very disciplined with my eating and my sleeping. I try to sleep whenever it is possible.
Have you trained specifically for all that?
I’ve learned how to deal with it. Particularly food, I’ve worked with a nutritionist. I pick food I like and I know what I have to eat in one day. As far as sleeping is concerned, I know the minimum I need; but if I can take more, I take it, I take it, I take it, because sometimes you have to give it back. I’m continuously looking for opportunities to sleep.
Sometime skippers can have hallucinations. Have you had any during your career?
I’ve never experienced what I would call a hallucination. What I’ve seen before was when I was nearly in a dream state. So it’s more like a dream rather than a hallucination.
© Vincent Curutchet / DPPIAre you a little bit superstitious or stressed?
So you don’t bring any unusual object onboard?
Yes, I take a couple of rabbits (laugh). I remember a story with a friend of mine; he opened some food and asked if I wanted some. I said: “no thank you, it looks like rabbit food”. And he was like: “Rabbit? Rabbit? You cannot say this word. You cannot say this word”. So I’m not really superstitious.
As a skipper, do you feel concerned with the respect of the environment and sustainable development?
Definitely, with the way the people treat the sea, with all the rubbish, etc. It’s unacceptable. I think any sailor, any person who sails on the ocean has maybe a different thinking compared to someone who doesn’t. Also, one man on little boat in the big ocean, makes you understand how small we are. How insignificant we are. But insignificant or not, we have to do whatever we can to protect where we leave, where we enjoy ourselves.
What animals do you get to see on a race like that?
I expect to see a million dolphins. You still see whales, birds. It’s beautiful to see the wildlife in their natural environment, especially whales.
It can’t be very easy when you come face to face with a whale?
When I see a whale, I always hope they are far away from me, enough for us not to actually meet.