After coming third in the inaugural 2016 New York-Vendée, Alex Thomson says he is now in a "fantastic position" ahead of the start of the Vendée Globe.
British skipper Alex Thomson on HUGO BOSS crossed the finish line off Les Sables d’Olonne at 18:43:33 French time on 8 June to come third in the New York-Vendée race.
He covered the course in 9 days 21 hrs 03 mins and 33 seconds.
The Gosport-based skipper finished 4 hours and 41 minutes behind the winner, Jérémie Beyou on Maître CoQ. He was 1 hour 36 minutes and 44 seconds behind second-placed Sébastien Josse on Edmond de Rothschild.
Thomson sailed a total of 3,453 nautical miles at an average speed of 14.57 knots.
Finishing the race at Les Sables d’Olonne must have brought back memories for the 42-year-old.
Just over three years ago, Thomson finished third at the French port in the 2012-13 Vendée Globe.
“This is a fantastic achievement; not only for me but for the entire team,” he said.
“Just weeks ago the boat was in the shed, undergoing major repairs. Today we crossed the finish line in third place, in what was an incredibly challenging race,” noted Thomson.
“This result has put us in a fantastic position ahead of the Vendée Globe. We are incredibly confident that we have built a racing yacht which is capable of winning the race and its performance over the past 10 days has only reinforced that,” he said.
After storming ahead at the start of the New York-Vendée, Thomson was left frustrated when he hit the light winds in the Bay of Biscay.
However, the race was certainly a test for HUGO BOSS ahead of the start of Thomson’s fourth Vendée Globe in November.
Just last November, Thomson was forced to abandon HUGO BOSS when his new boat capsized off the north coast of Spain. The skipper had to be airlifted to safety.
However, Thomson immediately went back to salvage HUGO BOSS, began rebuilding and the fruits of his labour are clear.
Commenting on Thomson’s achievement, Beyou said: “Alex has sailed really well. He’s the fastest of us, the one who can register the most monstrous speeds.”
Beyou described Thomson as “a reference-point in the IMOCA”.
“He is radical in his choices, sometimes a little too much, but he dares to take risks in his routing. Here, he went a little too far north, which deprived him of the opportunity to come back down, but his choice might well have paid off,” noted the French skipper.
“And every race, you realise that he is still making further progress. I was talking a bit with my team: Alex is in the process of reinventing sailing in an IMOCA. It may be necessary to sail like him, to right on course and keeping pace with Alex Thomson to win the Vendée Globe,” stated the 39-year-old.
Meanwhile, Paul Meilhat on SMA has finished fourth in the New York-Vendée.
The French skipper crossed the finish line off Les Sables d’Olonne at 09:59:27 (French time) on 9 June. Meilhat covered the course in 10 days 12 hrs 19 mins and 27 seconds.
At 14:37:52 (French time) on 9 June, French skipper Jérémie Beyou crossed the finish line at Les Sables d’Olonne to win the New York-Vendée Race.
“This win is super important in itself, because the New York-Vendée is a big ocean race, but it is also important for the Vendée Globe: it’s going to be hard for me to hide now,” said the 39-year-old from Lorient.
“I felt I could afford a smile when I realised that I was able to keep Seb (Josse) at bay. I was up to speed with the best, it was a good sign,” he continued.
“I really felt that it was possible when we ended up as a trio, and then I realised that it was pretty much done after his gybe yesterday morning towards the north Spain. That didn’t work and I was left out in front. I knew there would still be some soft stuff, but that everyone would suffer,” noted Beyou, who learnt to sail with his father in the Bay of Morlaix in Brittany.
Beyou sailed 3,460 nautical miles in the race, getting an average speed of 14.85 knots from Maître CoQ.
The older generation boat was recently retrofitted with foils.
Maître CoQ used to be the former Banque Populaire, which finished second in the last Vendée Globe in 2012-13.
Finishing second was Sébastien Josse on Edmond de Rothschild.
He crossed the finish line at 17:06:49 (French time), having sailed the race at an average speed of 14.7 knots.
Josse covered the course in 9 days 19 hrs 26 mins and 49 seconds.
He finished 2 hours 28 minutes and 57 seconds behind Beyou.
Meanwhile, British skipper, Alex Thomson has been frustrated, battling with light winds.
As a result, HUGO BOSS is expected to come third, and is scheduled to arrive at 18.00.
Speaking ahead of Beyou’s win, Thomson said it was great for all three of them to be finishing so close together.
“I think as we get closer, I’m not sure I’ll be that close behind the guys, probably more than 3 or 4 hours away. It’s been a superb race so far. And I guess to cap it all off we had to have some driftathon,” he explained.
“I haven’t (been in such a light wind close finish in the Bay of Biscay before). I think you’ll find Jérémie and Sebastien will have done an awful lot because they sail a lot in this area in the Figaro and both of them are hot at it,” stated Thomson.
With 236.9 nautical miles to go to the finish, Alex Thomson on HUGO BOSS caught up the 25 nautical miles he had lost on 4 June, propelling him into the lead.
But Thomson’s advantage lasted only an hour on 6 June.
As of 0800 UTC on 7 June, Jérémie Beyou on Maître CoQ was back out in front.
Sébastien Josse skippering Edmond de Rothschild lies second, and is 8.6 nautical miles behind Beyou, while 12.9 nautical miles now separate Thomson from Beyou.
Thomson has been averaging just 3.5 knots for the last four hours compared to Beyou’s 6.7.
Geographically, Josse is directly behind Beyou too, with both about 60 miles south of Thomson.
All three have averaged between 8-8.6 knots over the last 24 hours.
However, Thomson is closer to the most direct line to the finish.
He has gybed north to be closer to it this morning, just as the two French sailors are diverging from him slightly further south.
The routing models predict a midday finish at Les Sables d’Olonne on 8 June.
In the mid-fleet battle, Vincent Riou on PRB is gaining fast on Tanguy de Lamotte’s Initiatives Coeur and Kojiro Shiraishi on Spirit of Yukoh.
Riou, fighting back after his pit-stop in the Azores, made over 20 nautical miles on both overnight.
Behind them, in the other three-way battle of the damaged boats, Jean-Pierre Dick on St Michel-Virbac continues to lead Morgan Lagravière’s Safran and Yann Eliès on Quéguiner-Leucémie Espoir.
Dick has also split the group by staying deep south in the North Atlantic, hooking into more powerful 30-knot southwesterlies, while the other two have gybed north.
In the battle at the back, after celebrating his 65th birthday yesterday, Pieter Heerema on No Way Back has gybed back south towards his rival Conrad Colman.
Colman, on 100% Natural Energy, extended his lead by around 12 nautical miles overnight, but still has 1,500 nautical miles to sail until the finish.
Alex Thomson on HUGO BOSS was playing down his hopes yesterday at the same time as he was roaring back into the race.
With less than 600 nautical miles to go to the finish of the New York-Vendée Race, HUGO BOSS was already edging back on the two French boats ahead of him – Jérémie Beyou on Maître CoQ and Sébastien Josse on Edmond de Rothschild.
But, the latest routing from the weather files suggests even more.
One model suggests Thomson could arrive as the winner on June 8.
The margins are so tight and wind in the Bay of Biscay so light in the coming days that nothing is certain, except that this has not become a race between two French horses.
“I don’t know whether I’m in hunt anymore or not,” said Thomson.
“There’s going to be a (drop in wind) before Les Sables d’Olonne so that certainly creates opportunity. I haven’t got too many problems on board, so, I’m pretty much operating at full speed and the conditions are going to moderate from here; currently I’ve got 20-25 knots of wind and I won’t see more than this on the rest of the trip, so I guess I’m in the hunt, but I think there would have to be some luck involved. [Something would have to happen to the others) to have a chance of winning and I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.”
As of 08.30UTC on 6 June, Beyou is 2.8 nautical miles ahead of Josse, and 26.3 nautical miles ahead of Thomson. All three were averaging around 8-10 knots.
In reaction to Beyou saying Thomson “perhaps went a little too far north”, Thomson said: “My positioning is where I ended after my autopilot problem (that caused him to crash tack overnight from Thursday to Friday), I haven’t really had much a choice. (There was) a slowdown the night before last just before the low pressure formed, so, yeah, I didn’t have too much of a choice. Would I rather be where he (Beyou) is? Yes I would.”
But now it is possible being north will help Thomson.
The routing suggests the Gosport-based skipper has to climb north-east almost to the latitude of Brest before coming down to Les Sables d’Olonne.
On Saturday, the forecast suggested that being more southerly and closer to the coast of Spain would favour Beyou and Josse, but they will now have to weave their way through the Bay of Biscay.
Conditions there from Tuesday will be exceedingly tricky for all three boats with under 5 knots of wind.
Thomson also explained the cause and effects of his crash tack in 40 knots from Thursday to Friday, that cost him the lead of the race he had held for four days.
“I just went down a wave at 28 knots and I’m sat in the doorway and at the bottom of the wave we stopped and I was nearly hurled forwards; the g-force is ridiculous when you go down a wave and the bow ploughs in front,” he said.
“During the crash tack it wasn’t so bad. (but) yes, it’s stressful, I’m very aware that without the autopilot I can’t go anywhere. Although I lost 80 miles during that night and it hurt me yesterday, at least I got through it,” noted the 42-year-old.
At the other end of the fleet, the Dutchman, Pieter Heerema on No Way Back is in last place. He has lost ground to the New Zealander, Conrad Colman, and still has 2,053 nautical miles to reach the finish.
In an email, Heerema wrote: “Boat is ok, I did not feel well last night, so took it easy and slow, slept a lot. Still a big headache.”
In the middle of the fleet, Vincent Riou on PRB has re-started in seventh place after a pit-stop in the shelter of the port of Horta on Faial in the Azores.
Riou had to repair a leak and some power issues and was slightly longer than the eight hours he had hoped for, stopping for just over 12 hours from 2000 UTC on 4 June to 0815 UTC on 5 June.
Alex Thomson continues to extend his lead in the New York-Vendée (Les Sables d’Olonne) Race.
Thomson’s black and silver IMOCA 60, HUGO BOSS is around 110 nautical miles from the centre of the huge 1,200 mile-wide depression that he has been resolutely sailing towards.
If the GFS weather model proves correct, within the next six hours the British skipper should see the wind backing into the southeast, indicating that he has passed the depression’s centre.
With this, the wind will abate to a more manageable 20-25 knots and Thomson will gybe to stay in these favourable conditions.
Sadly, what could have been a record-speed passage is forecast to come to a grinding halt early next week with a large wind hole around the Bay of Biscay.
As Thomson reported by video yesterday as he was sailing at break-neck pace through the gale: “It looks very complicated into the finish. The guys behind, Jérémie (Beyou) and Sébastien (Josse) will be very close – the lead I have at the moment MEANS NOTHING. I have to keep the boat in one piece, sail fast and…don’t break anything…”
As of 0815 UTC on 3 June, Thomson is 71.5 nautical miles ahead of his nearest rival Sébastien Josse on Edmond de Rothschild. Jérémie Beyou on Maitre Coq is 81.0 nautical miles behind Thomson.
Meanwhile, more details are emerging about the collisions which happened in the early hours of the race, south of the Nantucket Shoals. Five boats were forced to head to Newport, Rhode Island for repairs.
The damage to the foil on Armel Le Cléac’h’s Banque Populaire VIII was so serious that he was forced to retire.
The other boats damaged, Yann Eliès’ Queguiner-Leucémie Espoir, Pieter Heerema’s No Way Back, Jean-Pierre Dick’s StMichel Virbac and Morgan Lagravière’s Safran, are now back in the race.
An investigation is now underway into the exact cause of the collisions.
Alex Thomson has reported spotting large schools of sunfish, while PRB skipper Vincent Riou saw sharks and other flotsam.
As well as the teams, the race committee will be hearing from marine biologists and coast guards during the investigation.
It is hoped this will allow the organisers of the race, Open Sports Management, to establish a plan of action, as well as creating more awareness for those involved in professional offshore racing.
The incidents occurred far from the exclusion zone that had been defined in the Sailing Instructions, in response to information provided by marine specialists.
Alex Thomson is extending his lead in the New York-Vendée (Les Sables d’Olonne) Race.
HUGO BOSS has averaged 2 knots faster than both Jérémie Beyou’s Maître CoQ and Sébastien Josse on Edmond de Rothschild, holding second and third places respectively.
During the seven hour overnight position black-out period, Thomson has gained seven nautical miles on Beyou and one on Josse.
Currently, just 22.8 nautical miles separate Thomson and Beyou.
“I think I have just got a quick boat!” explained Thomson. “She’s a bit narrower than the other foilers and a bit lighter and I think that is what did it. It was rather pleasant apart from the amount of water which comes over the boat!”
Thomson’s lead comes as five boats were forced to head to Newport, Rhode Island within 24 hours of start of the race. They had collided with unknown objects south of the Nantucket Shoals.
Thomson said it came as huge relief that HUGO BOSS wasn’t damaged.
“I wish I’d had a bit of wood to touch,” Thomson stated.
“I had four collisions myself. I had two collisions with the foil, one of which was very very hard, but I couldn’t see any damage. Then I hit something relatively softly with the keel and I had two other hits, but my kick-up rudder system worked very well. I was extremely worried and I am very happy to have got out of that. Every boat which turned back I saw them go past. I am very sorry for them. It is very harsh after so much preparation and work,” said Thomson.
Beyou, the 39-year-old skipper of second-placed foil-born Maître CoQ, echoed these sentiments.
“I stopped foiling when everyone hit the UFOs. I freaked out, I put it back out later. You have to hang on in these situations – I spent the day and the evening on the deck. It all went well for me,” he said.
Yesterday the frontrunners crossed the continental shelf and are now out into the North Atlantic.
“We gybe tomorrow morning and then we head into the depression and try and get across it before we get hammered,” said Thomson of what lies ahead. “There is a lot of wind coming, but hopefully I’ll be ahead of that.”
The 42-year-old continued: “It is great to be in front but I am very conscious of the boats and guys that are behind me and their calibre and experience and miles. I’m not getting my hopes up.”
Meanwhile, Armel Le Cléac’h on Banque Populaire VIII has announced his retirement from the race. His foil was seriously damaged south of the Nantucket Shoals.
The recent winner of The Transat bakerly says he is obviously disappointed, but hasn’t lost sight of his ultimate goal of the season – the Vendée Globe
“The foil is not usable again as it is now and requires further repair work. To set sail in reasonable time, would condemn the foil casing,” said the French skipper.
He added: “We stay in Vendée Globe preparation mode and should arrive in Lorient next week.”
Out of the other boats damaged, Yann Eliès’ Queguiner-Leucémie Espoir, Pieter Heerema’s No Way Back and Jean-Pierre Dick’s StMichel Virbac are now back in the race.
Morgan Lagravière’s Safran still remains in Newport as the shore crew continues their repair work on the boat’s damaged foil case.
It has been a difficult 24 hours for several of the skippers in the New York-Vendée race, which began on 29 May.
Five of them have been forced to make pitstops in Newport, Rhode Island following collisions with unidentified floating objects to the south of the Nantucket Shoals.
According to race organisers, this has affected conventionally-equipped older generation IMOCA 60s and the new generation foil-equipped boat alike.
Over the course of 30 May, Yann Eliès’ Queguiner-Leucémie Espoir was followed into Rhode Island by Armel Le Cléac’h on Banque Populaire VIII, Morgan Lagravière’s Safran, Pieter Heerema’s No Way Back and Jean-Pierre Dick’s StMichel Virbac.
The most severe damage is to Safran and Banque Populaire. The new generation foils on both boats have been knocked backwards in their respective cases, with varying degrees of severity.
Meanwhile out on the race course, Alex Thomson’s HUGO BOSS has pulled nominally into the lead, with just 18.4 nautical miles separating him from Sébastien Josse’s Edmond de Rothschild.
Jérémie Beyou’s Maître CoQ is third, while Vincent Riou’s PRB is fourth.
With the wind slowly backing into the southeast and building to 20-25 knots, the boats are currently making 18-19.5 knots.
Behind the four front runners, Kojiro Shiraishi on Spirit of Yukoh and Paul Meilhat on SMA have swapped sides of the course with the Japanese sailor now in the south and Meilhat in the north.
The forecast has the wind continuing to veer into the west south-west, remaining in the 20-25 knots range.
The conditions will give the crews the opportunity to show the potential of their craft with the three other front runners this morning sailing around one knot faster than PRB.
The boats are now out into the ‘deep ocean’ having crossed the continental shelf on 30 May.
Alex Thomson will be the only UK skipper competing in the New York-Vendée race which starts this Sunday, 29 May.
The 14 entrants will be racing 3,100 nautical miles across the North Atlantic from New York to Sables d’Olonne, France.
This is the start/finish port of the Vendée Globe. It is also considered the spiritual home of the IMOCA Class.
The race, which is the fourth event in the IMOCA Ocean Masters World Championship 2015-16, is the last major singlehanded race before the Vendée Globe in November.
See video of Alex Thomson’s preparations below
Thomson, who finished third in the last Vendée Globe, will be racing in his new IMOCA 60, HUGO BOSS.
The 42-year-old skipper and his technical team have been putting HUGO BOSS through its paces ahead of the race.
This will be Thomson’s first solo race on board the new yacht.
Earlier in May, he successfully completed a solo transatlantic delivery of the IMOCA 60 to Rhode Island.
HUGO BOSS is currently berthed in Manhattan’s North Cove Marina, close to ‘Ground Zero’.
Five other IMOCA 60s are also there including Armel le Cleac’h and Banque Populaire, recent winners of the Transat bakerly.
Runner-up in the last two Vendée Globes, Le Cleac’h is favourite for the race to the Vendée.
He will be up against Thomson and Sébastien Josse on Edmond de Rothschild, stand-out winner of December’s Transat St-Barth-Port-la-Forêt.
Other leading French entrants include Barcelona World Race two time winner, Jean-Pierre Dick on his new St Michel-Virbac.
Leading the charge on ‘conventionally’ foiled older generation boats will be PRB’s Vincent Riou, winner of the 2004 Vendée Globe, and Queguiner-Leucemie Espoir’s Yann Eliès, a three time winner of the ultra-competitive solo offshore race, the Solitaire du Figaro.
Another triple Solitaire winner racing is Jérémie Beyou, skipper of Maître CoQ, unique in the fleet for being an older generation boat, retrofitted with new generation foils.
Other than Alex Thomson, there are three other non-French skippers competing.
The US home crowd will be rooting for Conrad Colman, the half American/half New Zealand skipper of 100% Natural Energy.
Colman has spent the last eight years serving his apprenticeship to compete in the Vendée Globe, which has already included two round the world races.
Coming from furthest away is Japan’s Kojiro Shiraishi for whom competing in the Vendée Globe is a 30 year old dream.
The New York-Vendée race will be Shiraishi’s first race in his new boat and the first solo.
“It is fantastic. I really love it. It is the newest boat I’ve ever had – very stable and more powerful,” said Shiraishi.
Approaching his campaign from yet another angle is Pieter Heerema.
The Dutch businessman is an highly experienced yachtsman who’s sailed all his life, in dinghies and keelboats, and he is best known for his successes in the RC44 and Dragon classes.
However his new No Way Back, a powerful, new generation design IMOCA 60, is very different to the one designs he has previously raced.
And sailing it solo is even more challenging: all Heerema’s previous boats he has raced with crew.
“It is a piece of the puzzle of sailing that I haven’t done yet and one of the boxes that I have to tick,” said Heerema.
The New York-Vendée race starts at 1100 local time on 29 May, from a line immediately off Manhattan’s North Cove marina.
The first skipper is expected to cross the finish line from 5 June.
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