Circumnavigation: alone in the fight against the forces of nature


Alone in the fight against the forces of nature

Circumnavigation: alone in the fight against the forces of nature-nature

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Alex Thomson just before the start. The difficult stages follow when the sailors have to avoid icebergs.

Source: AFP

Circumnavigation: alone in the fight against the forces of nature-nature

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Alex Thomson on his monohull, with which he sails the Vendee Globe.

Source: Christophe Launay

Circumnavigation: alone in the fight against the forces of nature-nature

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Thomson was in a good mood before the start in Les Sables-d’Olonne on the French Atlantic coast

Source: AFP

Circumnavigation: alone in the fight against the forces of nature-forces

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The Briton starts for the third time in the toughest race of sailors.


Circumnavigation: alone in the fight against the forces of nature-alone

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The first days on board were mixed for the 20 participants. Two were eliminated in the first week.

Source: Christophe Launay

At the Vendee Globe, sailors circle the world one-handed and non-stop. A tour of the Leiden over 45,000 kilometers, it couldn’t be more daring. Two out of 20 boats had to give up in the first week.

D.he floating living and working area of ‚Äč‚ÄčAlex Thomson, 38, cannot have been designed by a designer. Immediately behind the entrance on the left is his kitchen: a gas bottle with a top, big enough to fit a pot. Thomson can use it to warm up its meals, which are packed in vacuum bags.

Not even a step to the right is his "bedroom", which consists of a few pieces of foam. It’s also not far to his work area: a navigation station with a satellite telephone. His “bathroom” fits into this ambience: a bucket to relieve himself. His team members have stuck the name of a competitor on the bottom of the container. Thomson laughs as he shows his loo – British humor.

Thomson seldom laughs these days. Last Saturday he started on the French Atlantic coast in Les Sables-d’Olonne with 19 other adventurers on a circumnavigation of the world, which can be described as daring or better as a tour of the tired of life. Because the team left Thomson ashore. The Englishman sails like all participants in the Vendee Globe alone or as the sailors say: one-handed.

Three months for 45,000 kilometers

All boats want to be back in Les Sables-d’Olonne in around three months. But the first three have already been eliminated. If ten boats make it, that would be a good result. Four years ago, at the last edition of the Vendee Globe, eleven out of 29 starters crossed the finish line. The last 42 days after the winner. But at least they all survived.

How Thomson is doing after a week on his boat can be followed live online via three cameras that he has on board. Sailing alone, with no breaks, means accepting constant lack of sleep. Driving the boat for three to four hours is alternated with around 20 minutes of sleep.

This rhythm is a rule of thumb, but there can also be four hours of uninterrupted rest. On the other hand, when the waves pile up to a height of ten meters, 20 or 30 hours of fighting against the forces of nature. If there is a collision with floating debris or a whale, there is no rescue. That’s why Thomson says: "My goal is to make the 45,000 kilometers at sea, victory is secondary." After the first five days, the Welshman was sixth.

Moving images do not reveal how Thomson actually feels. What he transmits by email sounds like confidence, the third attempt at the Vendee Globe on France’s coasts for the first time to reach again. He failed twice, once at the start, in 2008 he collided with another boat like the French Kito de Pavant and Louis Burton this time. Kito was asleep when the impact occurred, and Burton was also below deck when a fishing trawler rammed him at 18 knots that night.

First held 23 years ago

The one-handed regatta has been held since 1989. Two sailors died, one is believed to be missing, others were saved at the last minute. Yet another sewed himself back on his tongue, which he had bitten off in a storm. The expedition becomes a horror trip when the sailors have passed Cape Horn far from the coast. Then no helicopter can help, and it can take days for the next ship to arrive. The loneliness of the sailors then becomes life-threatening agony.

The moments of happiness that the sailors felt when they left the port of Les Sables one by one on their boats are long forgotten. Several hundred thousand spectators cheered them on the way to the starting line out on the Atlantic: an expression of deep admiration and respect. The French television broadcast live, the interest in the gladiators of modern times was huge.

The French are enthusiastic about sailing, they have two coasts with the Mediterranean and the Atlantic as access to the world. You can estimate the risk of circumnavigating the world, especially since alone, means. “I said goodbye to my family as if they were going to see me for the last time,” says Thomson.

When Thomson talks about himself and the risks, it always sounds casual. “All of a sudden, everyone wants to know how I’m doing. Hey, I’m one of you, a normal person, ”he says shortly before the start. It’s hard to believe, even when you consider what Thomson has already done. Scoffers say he’s a break pilot.

Thomson is considered a "break pilot"

It is called the “wracker” because of its frequent accidents, but Thomson doesn’t seem to mind that much. What is more important to him is: “I have repeatedly proven that I can sail fast.” But Thomson, who looks more like a leisurely golfer with a round face, sunglasses and a friendly smile, is above all a daredevil. He proved this when he was filmed doing a Keel Walk. In his suit he climbed onto the keel of his boat, which was sailing at a considerable angle. He failed a couple of times, but then he completed the show act and plunged into the sea. Of course, something could have happened. The Briton later admitted: "It was more dangerous than it looks."

It gets even trickier when sailing around the world, for example when you have to pass icebergs. Thomson prepared himself mentally for extreme situations and also consulted a psychologist. But perhaps the thought of Michel Desjoyeaux will help him even more in an emergency. The French won the Vendee Globe twice, most recently in 2009. Wherever he appears, he is now considered a saint.

The trip to the start of the Vendee Globe was supported by Boss. You can find our standards of transparency and journalistic independence at

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