Alex Thomson has his first Vendée Globe drama as he is forced to scale the mast
Yesterday was a testing day for Alex Thomson on Hugo Boss. Despite a few early issues causing him to drop to 9th place during Sunday night, Alex quickly resolved all the problems and capitalised on his more southerly position to make steady gains on the leader. For most of the day he flew the A3 fractional spinnaker and staysail with the boat averaging nearly 16 knots and by the 15h00 poll he had climbed into 2nd place. It was time to put the pedal to the metal.
The team waited with baited breath for the next position report as during a phonecall he counted through the knots – 21, 22, 23 and he could see PRB just off his starboard bow. But this will continue to be a campaign of surprises and challenges for Alex and his yacht as, within just a short time, his tenacity was to be tested.
At around 18h30 GMT the first of the evening’s serious events occurred when the spinnaker tack detached itself from the bowsprit, resulting in the spinnaker wrapping itself and its halyard around the staysail. Try as he might, the two sails were by then so entangled that from the deck, Alex could do nothing to separate them.
By this time the wind was blowing 30 knots, it was pretty dark and Alex had a difficult choice to make. The easy option would have been to slow the boat down and wait until daylight to address the problem at hand. But never having been one for easy options, Alex armed himself with his head torch and climbing gear and began his 45 minute 22m ascent to virtually the top of the mast.
“Its quite a good view at night” said an ever-optimistic Alex. Despite being thrown around by the strong winds, he sawed his way through the block that holds the staysail halyard and after a tortuous 25 minute descent landed safely back on the deck with both sails undamaged. “I was pretty exhausted and my hands were very sore but the possibility of going back down below and chilling out was just not an option.”
So before Alex could even think about his freeze-dried chicken and dumpling stew he hauled up the Code 5 to get the boat back on track and into the race. About three hours later the next challenge kicked in, when the tack on the bowsprit came undone leaving the Code 5 loose. At this point the tack was flogging in the wind about 25ft from the boat, held only by the furling line to the pulpit. This could easily have ripped the pulpit off or shredded the sail.
Again Alex was faced with a choice – to slow the boat by bringing it off the wind but the risk of either Alex or the boat being hit by the furling drum was just too great. And so his choice was made. He gingerly edged to the end of the 6ft bowsprit, and as the waves crashed over him, he somehow succeeded in pulling the sail back in.
With the immediate danger now averted, Alex fitted the spare tack fitting and re-hoisted the sail. And does he feel? Exhausted and uncomfortable but mainly lucky. “It was good for me to go through this now. These problems exist because of the short time we had to prepare the boat and put her through her paces before the race started. But I’d rather find out about these problems now than when I’m in the Southern Ocean”.
Alex is gutted to be back in 4th position but as we all keep telling ourselves it’s a marathon not a sprint.