A romantic British sailor competing in a round-the-world yacht race proposed to his girlfriend today as she rounded Cape Horn

A romantic British sailor competing in a round-the-world yacht race proposed to his girlfriend today as she rounded sailing’s greatest landmark and the globe’s most treacherous stretch of water, Cape Horn. It is thought to be the world’s first-ever engagement made by one competitor to another during a major sporting event.

Graham Thompson, 31, from Crawley, is currently competing against his future wife, Laura Alexander the Global Challenge. Despite their fierce rivalry on the water, the couple, who are en route from Buenos Aires to Wellington, New Zealand in the second leg of the 30,000 mile race, were united briefly as Graham surprised Laura with an offer of marriage over the VHF radio of his yacht, Pindar. Laura, 30, from Basingstoke, who is competing on BP Explorer, a rival 72ft yacht, was sailing just 10 miles away from Graham at the time when she agreed to be his wife.

The romantic nature of the moment was not helped by the race’s rules which require the radio to be on an open frequency at all times, meaning that all 12 boats and 216 competitors in the race, as well as the event organisers in the UK, were able to listen to Graham and Laura’s conversation. However, with no other form of communication between one another, it was Graham’s only choice.

Graham had planned the engagement during the recent stop-over in Buenos Aires at the end of first leg of the race. As well as buying an engagement ring in Argentina, he had secretly informed David Pugh, 44, one of Laura’s crewmates, about his plans, and Pugh was tasked with presenting the ring to Laura at the vital moment.

Graham, who had successfully managed to keep his planned proposal secret from Laura, even went to the trouble of ringing her mother, Valerie Alexander, from the middle of the ocean prior to popping the question to ask for her consent. Thankfully, she was delighted to hear the news and happy to give her approval.

The engagement is particularly poignant as the couple first met in the stopover in Sydney during the 2000-2001 Global Challenge. Graham was in Sydney to watch his father, who was a competitor in the race, while Laura was a project manager for another team. However, it was only when they returned to the UK that their relationship really blossomed. They both separately decided to further their sailing skills in an attempt to compete in the current race and ended up in Southampton on the same sailing course – the rest is history.

Graham has already made provisional plans for the wedding to take place in Sydney during the third stopover of the race where they first met four years ago. Both of the couple’s teams will be invited to attend, and Graham’s 16 crewmates from Team Pindar have already volunteered to swap their foul weather gear for morning suits to be ushers on the big day.

Graham Thompson commented: “Today has been the greatest, but most nerve-wracking day of my life. Most sailors approaching Cape Horn have a sense of fear, but I had two reasons to be a little apprehensive!

Laura Alexander added: “It has been an amazing day. To round Cape Horn and get engaged all in the space of a few minutes was unbelievable. It was slightly strange when one of the crew got down on one knee as I was sitting at the navigation station – I thought it was some kind of practical joke. The next thing I knew was that Graham was on the radio and he was asking me to marry him, then I was handed a ring and at that point I knew it was for real.

Sir Chay Blyth, organiser of the Global Challenge concluded: “This has certainly added to the high drama of the fleet rounding Cape Horn. You could actually feel the tension in the air when Graham asked Laura to be his wife – I think one of the girls in the race head- quarters almost fell off her chair. We were all thrilled when she said ‘yes’, and now wish them both a safe and speedy passage to Wellington. I now know what it’s like to be Cilla Black!”