30 Second Snapshot
Name: Alex Thomson
Your home base: Gosport, south of England
Aside from a passport, the three items you always travel with: My travel cushion, a reusable water bottle and my BOSS travel suit.
Your perfect meal on the road – what and where: A burger… and it could be anywhere at all. When you’ve been away for weeks at sea, surviving on freeze-dried food, you’re not too fussy when you return!
The best thing you’ve read in the last 6 months: Unfortunately with the demands of my current schedule, I haven’t read anything new in the last six months. Perhaps after my next race, La Route du Rhum, I’ll have more time!
Your travel soundtrack: I’ll be honest and say I’m not really much of a music person.
The one place you’ve been that you think everyone should visit, and why: Toronto. I was there on tour earlier this year. It’s a great place and the people are incredibly friendly. I hope to go back soon!
The one place you’ll always return to, no matter how many times: Jersey. Growing up, it was a massive playground for me. My dad is from there and my grandfather built a shed on Les Ecréhous, a reef seven miles off Jersey. We would go when I was very young and the adults slept in the hut and the kids would camp on the patio. To this day, some of my fondest memories are from Jersey as a kid. Now, I frequently visit with my own family and my children love it. In fact, I’m here as I write this!
The one Never-Have-I-Ever destination that you hope to visit, and why: There are a few places that are great for kitesurfing (which I love) – like Hawaii and Fiji.
The one thing that most surprised you on your last trip: The reception we received in Canada. We were given a really warm welcome in Halifax, Montreal and Toronto, and I was blown away by the number of sailing fans.
Meet Alex Thomson, aka "James Bond of the ocean". As a yachtsman and racer, he broke his own record of the fastest solo circumnavigation of the globe in a monohull. After 74 days, 19 hours and 35 minutes, Alex reached the finish line of the Vendée Globe in January 2017. An outstanding accomplishment made even more extraordinary by the fact that his boat suffered potentially race-ending damage after just 13 days at sea, but even this major setback didn't stop him finishing the race as the fastest Brit ever and securing second place. Ahead of his next attempt to win the 26,000-mile, single-handed, non-stop, round-the-world race (not surprisingly dubbed the "Everest of sailing") we have had a chance to catch up with Alex and get a glimpse of what inspires and continues to motivate him to take to the high seas...
What did your “This is What I’m Going to Do” moment look like?
I started sailing as a young child. Back then it was not something that would pay the bills, so I obviously had to have other jobs. I was a professional fisherman at one point and I did normal jobs like any teenager, but sailing was always my passion. After winning the 1998/99 Clipper Round the World Race I decided to go pro. For me, offshore sailing presents the ultimate challenge. It requires me to push myself to the limit, both physically and mentally.
How would you describe a typical day?
An average day onboard HUGO BOSS [my yacht] when I’m racing solo will involve driving the boat, changing the sails, trimming the sails, checking the weather reports, running the routing, keeping an eye on my competitors…and trying to make sure I leave time to sleep and eat!
When I’m not racing, an average day can include travelling to meet partners and sponsors, delivering talks and presentations, speaking to media, meeting community groups and charity partners and catching up with my team. A big part of my time on shore currently is dedicated to the design and build of the new HUGO BOSS boat, which will launch in June 2019. This is the boat I will race in the 2020-2021 Vendée Globe.
It’s no small feat to circumnavigate the globe single-handedly, so with your mission to win the Vendée Globe – arguably the toughest sporting challenge on the planet – can you share with us some of the highs and also the most challenging moments of spending 70+ days at sea solo?
The most challenging thing about the Vendée Globe is being away from my family. It’s tougher for them than it is for me and I have to remind myself that it is my decision to do this. I can speak to them every day, as communication is more advanced than it used to be, but ultimately I am still out there on my own. When you reach Point Nemo in the Pacific Ocean you’re in the most remote part of the world so being rescued is not really a possibility, unless it’s by another skipper. That level of isolation can be tough.
Sleep deprivation also brings its own challenges. I try to get 20-40 minutes of sleep every two to four hours. During the 75 days of the last Vendée the longest I slept in one period was just one hour.
In terms of high points, finishing second overall and achieving my best finish at the 2016-2017 Vendée Globe is up there. The Vendée is more than just 70+ days at sea; it’s four years’ worth of planning and preparation with a dedicated team, who do so much behind the scenes. And so that was a proud moment for the whole team.
What is your proudest accomplishment of the last 12 months?
Being named YJA’s Yachtsman of the Year. That was something to be proud of. I was also proud to be made an Honorary Member of the Royal Yacht Squadron. Only a small group of sailors are honorary members, including my friend and mentor Sir Robin Knox Johnston so I feel very privileged to have joined that group.
You’ve had your fair share of near-death experiences – how do moments like this change your perspective on what you do and perhaps life in general?
There have certainly been a few close shaves. I’ve been saved from a life raft by a fellow skipper near South Africa and I’ve capsized off the coast of Spain. Those experiences sometimes make you question why you do it but, for me, it’s those experiences that make you mentally tough.
Where is your favourite part of the world to sail?
I love Scandinavia and the Caribbean. Both are beautiful in very different ways. My wife booked a trip to the Caribbean after the last Vendée Globe. It was beautiful - we sailed around the islands and enjoyed spending time with each other after I had been away for the best part of three months. The archipelago off Stockholm is also stunning. There are loads of islands with picturesque houses on them and the waters are amazing.
If you weren’t breaking world sailing records, what would you be doing instead?
I honestly don’t know but, whatever it might be, it would involve being on the water. I have always lived close to the sea and I can never imagine myself spending long periods of time away from the water.
Finally, what are you most excited about crossing off your list in the next year? The next ten years?
We’re in the process of building a new boat for the next Vendée Globe. It will take a year to build and 40,000 man hours so it’s a significant investment for our team, our partners and our long standing sponsor, HUGO BOSS. Because of that, most of my time on land is being spent working with the design and technical teams here to ensure that the boat we launch is the best it possibly can be.
In the next ten years? I would like to become the first non-French sailor to win the Vendée Globe. That’s the ultimate goal for me. In 2012-13 I finished third, in 2016-17 I finished second, so now, looking ahead to 2020-21, there’s only one option.