Taking this spectacular shot of Alex Thomson standing on the keel of his boat involved a few unusual risks
No, this isn’t a PhotoShot mock-up; it was a real stunt done by Alex Thomson this summer, and there’s quite a story of derring-do behind it.
The tale begins in 2007 when Yann Elies’s new IMOCA 60 Generali was pictured popping her keel out of the water after the start of the Fastnet Race. In Plymouth afterwards, I mentioned it to Alex Thomson and he laughed and said that one day he’d go one better and stand on his keel.
And so he has, in a spectacular stunt that amazed his happy sponsors. But what’s not that obvious from the photo is just how dicey and dangerous it was to do, and yesterday Alex filled me in with the whole story.
The first thing I noticed was that the windward rudder was missing. Removing it was vital because of the risk of injury from the rudder blade once he’d jumped off the keel, and the possible catastrophe of the windward rudder sinking back down into the RIB that would be dropping him off.
As Alex had just bought the Juan K-designed Pindar as a replacement and this has fixed rudders (whereas his present boat has kick-up rudders), he knew it would probably be his last chance to have a go at keel-surfing.
His crew took the boat out from Gosport in 17 knots of wind, hoisted main and masthead jib, canted the keel to windward and ballasted Hugo Boss on the wrong side with 6 tonnes of water, inducing enough heel to lift the bulb out of the water.
On board was a mainsheet and headsail trimmer, a helmsman and Alex’s brother David communicating with the two RIBs, one with Alex aboard and another positioning photographer Mark Lloyd. You may be able to see David Thomson cracking up with laughter in this shot.
Alex’s RIB driver had a few seconds to drop him off and get out of shot – the boat is doing 10 knots here and there is only about 5-10 seconds between the bulb surfacing and the boat broaching. The obvious danger was of Alex falling into the water and going into the RIB propeller, and he wasn’t going to wear a lifejacket over his Hugo Boss suit.
So there was a bit of nippy RIB work to get Alex standing on the keel for a few seconds before it sank back down and he’d have to jump off. As the boat broached the stern would be moving away so he was clear of the hull.
Alex says he had several goes at this before they got just the right shot.
I love that plume of water behind him. Very James Bond.