Thomson takes aim at Riou and co. as the start line approaches.
Alex Thomson fired the first shot across the bows of his French rivals by saying he doubts the favourites in the new generation of open 60 boats will make it around the world.
He is not the only one talking about whether the new, lighter, Verdier VPLP designed French boats (Banque Populaire 3, Macif, PRB, Virbac-Paprec 3) and Juan Kouyoumdjian’s powerboat, Cheminées Poujoulat, will finish, but most are whispering it beside the pontoon. Vincent Riou has already ruffled Arnaud Boissiéres feathers by saying that the Farr designed boats are “like chewing gum” – Boissières bought Riou’s old 2008 Farr-designed PRB.
Thomson (who is also in a Farr-designed Hugo Boss) lobs this particular grenade from inside the spartan carbon shell that he hopes will be his home for three months. He is sitting in the small mission control station that will keep him updated with weather and in contact with the outside world and he keeps pulling the pins and no punches as the interview goes on.
“I just don’t see most of them getting round the world,” he says. “I think we’ll see an attrition rate again of at least 50%.”
© Christophe LaunayAlthough there is plenty of pressure on Thomson to finish a solo around the world race for the first time, he is feeling more confident in his preparation than ever and it shows.
“This is a confidence game and confident are these guy really in their boats?” He asks? It’s a rhetorical question. “I know a lot of people who don’t believe in their boats. From the last Vendée Globe the rule (change) made one advantage and that was to be light and being light doesn’t make you more reliable, it does the opposite. You’ve only got to go back and see some of the problems these guys have had. Yes, they’ve finished some races, but not without assistance and people in the teams…everybody is pretty nervous about it. If you ask me; ‘am I sitting here in a position of strength?’ No not really. I would like to be sitting on one of those boats probably if I had a choice, but I’m not. But it wouldn’t surprise me if reliability in those five new boats is worse than in the rest of the boats of fleet.” (there are actually six, with Acciona (Javier Sansó).
Thomson is in a second-generation boat, the old BT that Sébastien Josse sailed in the last Vendée, where he dropped out with rudder damage.
“It was a fast boat and we haven’t done very much to change it, just tweaked it,” he says. “To be honest, we’ve just concentrated on the reliability.”
“This is the generation of boat beneath those and they have an advantage reaching (with wind coming perpendicular to the boat) for sure, it can be as big as one, one and a half, maybe even two knots. They’ve got much more volume in the bows those boats and they are also lighter. But what they’ve sacrificed by removing weight (PRB is supposed to be the lightest at 7.5 tonnes compared to Hugo Boss’s 8 tonnes) is safety. Absolutely no doubt. Vincent’s (Riou) boat is the lightest of all of them, allegedly. I don’t know if it’s true or not but everyone seems to say there are places on his deck where you are not able to stand (for fear of breaking the deck).”
“The Port-la-forêt training people say he’s (Riou) the fastest downwind which means he’s probably the lightest and those Verdier boats of PRB (Riou), Macif (Francois Gabart), Banque Populaire (Armel le Cléac’h) and Virbac-Paprec 3 (Jean-Pierre Dick), are all similar speeds and significantly faster speeds on occasion.”
© Benoît Stichelbaut / PRB“Then you’ve got Cheminées Poujoulat (Bernard Stamm), which can be more than one knot faster than them reaching, but seems to be hard work in the light. They’ve definitely got a speed advantage but have they got the reliability that we’ve got? No.”
Thomson has talked about his aim for this race being just to finish, is he not quietly confident that he has a chance?
“What to win? Yes, for sure,” he says immediately. “I don’t think you’d do the race if you didn’t think you didn’t have a chance of winning.
Well, there are quite a lot of people here who are…
You’re not going on an adventure like Alessandro (Di Benedetto, Team Plastique) are you?
“He’s a lunatic. He talks about Vincent Riou, or Mike (Golding) or me as somebody he considers a legend, but look at him, he went from Yokohama to San Francisco in a beach can, 62 days inside a drysuit. I struggle to do an hour in a drysuit. The guy is unbelievable and what a nice bloke he is as well.”
Is Thomson putting more pressure on himself this time?
“I don’t feel only pressure,” he says. “I think I felt more pressure last time especially knowing I was starting the race in a situation with a boat that two days earlier had been in a shed and in a thousand pieces (Thomson had a contretemps with a fishing boat three weeks before the start). I knew it wasn’t right. Whereas this time I’ve done half a Vendée Globe, 15,000 miles solo on the boat in the last 12 months. I’ve probably done more miles than anyone else has done and it has all been relevant, we’ve seriously concentrated on the reliability of the boat, analysing every single component."
"I feel that we’ve done our due diligence. I think if we look at the first five boats, those boats have struggled to finish races, they’re really super light and they’re not reliable. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if one of this generation of boat (from the 2008-09 race) pops up and wins it because I just don’t see most of them getting round the world. I think we’ll see an attrition rate again of at least 50%.”
“I think I have a chance of winning but the main thing is to finish. I’ve been here for too long now. I’ve spent ten years of my life in trying to win this race and if I didn’t finish this race then I’d probably feel like I’d wasted ten years of my life.”