The Miracle Race

The Vendee Globe is the real deal: A singlehanded sailor, a massively powerful, 60-foot canting-keel carbon-fiber racing shell with some of the fastest sails around, and Planet Earth. Solo. No assistance. Just the sailor, aboard his/her boat, taking on the world. What could be simpler?

Obviously, “simple” is not a standard word used to describe the work list necessary to just arrive on the starting line. But, imagine if you spent years designing, building, learning, and prepping your boat (oh, yeah, you also happen to hold the world record for the most number of miles sailed in a monohull in a 24-hour period [468.72nm], so it’s fair to say that you’re competitive, if not favored, for a podium finish), only to have disaster strike. Welcome to Alex Thomson’s world.

On October 17, Thomson’s IMOCA 60, Hugo Boss, was standing just outside the harbor entrance of Les Sables d’Olonne (LSD), their running lights ablaze, their masthead light on, their radar on, their AIS class-B system transmitting their position. Everything was fine, and the crew was belowdeck, some asleep, waiting to transfer some shore crew before yet another tune-up day for Hugo Boss. Then it happened: a 60-foot French fishing trawler moving at 8.5 knots T-boned Hugo Boss, ramming her midships just forward of her mast bulkhead, creating a massive hole in the side of Thomson’s sled. And, since one boat was built to be heavy and tough (the trawler), while the other was designed to be tough and light (Hugo Boss), you can imagine which boat suffered the worst damage. Hugo Boss’s rig came tumbling down (it broke at the first spreader) and had to be cut free of the boat, sails in all, and deep-sixed in order to protect the hull. Hugo Boss limped back to the dock in rough shape, Thomson’s heart in tatters after spending years of his life for a race that was to start some three weeks after his accident.

But miracles do happen. In this case, the miracle was a man by the name of Sir Keith Mills (of Team Origin fame), a man whom Thomson had met years before when Thomson was skippering a Clipper Around The World Race boat, on which Mills was sailing. Sir Keith gave Thomson the help, staff, and support he needed to rebuild Hugo Boss, fixing the hole, fairing the hull, retrieving the abandoned rig (it was rebuilt using a sleeve that was constructed in New Zealand and flown to LSD for re-stepping), fixing sails, and getting the boat ready. A staggering 1000 man hours (in 13 days) split between 30 of the world’s foremost experts went into the repair job, the worst bit being the hull repair as Hugo Boss’s hull mold no longer existed (they used the mold from Yann Elies’ Generali, which is a sistership of Hugo Boss’s, designed byFinot-Conq. Luckily, sheer wizardry, determination, a great sponsor, and a lot of elbow grease saved the day and Hugo Boss will be on this Sunday’s starting line. For Thomson, this obviously comes as a tremendous relief, yet the lingering doubt must remain as to if the fixed Hugo Boss will be as quick as the original build. Time will tell, but with this much fortune already on his side, things are certainly looking brighter for Thomson.

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