VGTV (Matthew Pryor): What are you impressions of the race so far?
Brian Thompson: It’s been an unbelievable Vendée so far. Incredible close racing at the front. To be within sight of each other today just south of New Zealand going past the Auckland Islands that’s unprecedented, they are having a fantastic race. Then, there are numerous other races within the race. There’s obviously Alex (Thomson) and Bernard (Stamm), that’s an incredible match race as well as is the four-man one including Mike (Golding). There’s been so much going on, I’ve been glued to the website since the start.
VGTV: Why are though so fast - the front two?
BT: I think there really has been a huge gain since the Amsterdam gate, nine days ago. Those two boats, especially Francois with his 24 hour record shows that when you’re in that northwest wind before a front you can go incredibly fast. I think that’s key in the Southern Ocean to go fast then because those are the best conditions (to accumulate the most miles and make the biggest gains). If you can stay ahead of that front you can ride that wave, rather like a surfer, that wave of wind, for hundreds, maybe thousands of miles and if you fall off the back of that, say you’re going one knot slower and you fall off the back of that wind, you’re suddenly going to be doing five-six knots slower on the backside of the front.
So, if you can be fast in those conditions, 25-knot broad reaching, then you can accumulate and compound the advantages that you’ve got over the other people. I think it’s a very small edge they’ve got that in those wind conditions have allowed them to stay ahead of that front, just after the Amsterdam gate. To gain 500 miles on Jean-Pierre (Dick) and 880 on Alex is just due to them being able to stay ahead of that front. So, there’s a bit of extra speed and good fortune in that the front was just able to catch the others, but not to catch them.
VGTV: We’ve seen if you have a problem like Jean-Pierre Dick has had you lose miles. Bernard (Stamm) has been nursing Chemine es Poujoulat around to this point, as has Alex. You have some experience of nursing a very powerful boat, from the last edition, how do you handle that?
BT: Yes, I’ve looking at the last few days, Jean-Pierre having to go up the mast, Alex crash-gybing and having power issues and boat-building as well. They’re all things I had to deal with in the last race, it does take a lot of energy from you, particularly for Jean-Pierre not being able to use those two fractional sails for days probably made the difference of him not being able to quite stay with the leading pack and then getting behind the front that I mentioned and then you bleed even more miles. It’s critical to have the whole boat working optimally, both for your speed and for your energy and decision-making, the time you spend not sailing and fixing the boat really takes up a lot of your energy in terms of navigating and all the other commitments; tidying up the boat, doing your media stuff.
What’s interesting is that none of the top boats are saying there’s anything wrong. Jean-Pierre said: ‘Oh, I just happened to go up the mast’ and a few hours before he was saying what a beautiful sunset it was and how everything was going great. So, it could well be that the front boats are dealing with their own problems and we won’t find out until either they get to the finish or they drop out of the lead and don’t think they can catch up. Then they can front up to what’s actually been going on.
VGTV: How significant are those psychological games about when you reveal things?
BT: I think it’s probably the safest option for the leaders to say that everything is fine. I think if you say, ‘Oh, I have a problem.’ Then, your competitor is going to think: ‘well, I’ve got a chance here,’ when they might have been on the edge of throwing in the towel psychologically. But if you know you’ve got a chance then you’re going to push that extra bit harder. It’s really critical to say that your boat’s fine. Then when you’re not in the lead it’s probably advantageous to say you do have problems, perhaps not with the boats right around you, but with the leaders. They will start discounting you and say; ‘oh, OK, they’re not going to catch up.’ But generally, if you’ve got boats around you, you probably shouldn’t say there’s anything wrong.”