A collision with an underwater object has badly damaged the starboard foil of Alex Thomson's Hugo Boss, but he may be able to keep up speed in non-foiling mode

A collision with an underwater object has damaged the starboard foil of Alex Thomson’s Hugo Boss, putting his attempt to win the Vendee Globe solo round the world in jeopardy.

The collision happened yesterday during the race’s highest speeds yet in the South Atlantic, and just after Thomson had logged a daily run of 535 miles (but missing out on the previous record set by François Gabart by a mere 259m).

Thomson reported that he had been sailing at 24 knots in 22 knots of wind when, at 0935 UTC, he heard a bang and his boat Hugo Boss changed direction. Thomson had been down below trying to sleep at the time. He went up on deck and turned the boat downwind so he could inspect it.

He found the starboard foil damaged and also noticed scrapes down the starboard side of the hull.

Thomson has now retracted the damaged foil and slowed his boat, though he still remains in the lead. He said there does not appear to be any structural damage but he will further inspect the boat when the weather conditions allow.

“Having had a pretty quick night where the boat was sailing high averages and the boat was super uncomfortable I had retracted the foil 30 per cent early this morning and was sailing the boat pretty conservatively in a building breeze,” Thomson said.

“ I heard an almighty bang and the boat stopped and turned to starboard by about 20 degrees. I quickly went on deck, eased the mainsheet and realised I must have hit something. I eased the boat downwind and went to take a look and the starboard foil has been damaged and there are some scrapes on the starboard side of the boat.

“Right now I have taken the foot completely off the throttle and changed sails and retracted the foil and will sail on in these conditions until the wind and sea state moderate and I can inspect the damage and assess. I didn’t see anything in the water but it felt like the boat wrapped itself around something and it has caused some pretty significant damage to my foil.

“I was instructed to carry out an internal inspection of the boat and there does not appear to be any structural damage to the hull that I can see. For now I am going to continue and assess when I get the chance.”

Thomson had been leading the fleet and at the time had a lead of over 100 miles from 2nd place Sébastien Josse in Edmond de Rothschild.

He is awaiting better weather to cut away the stub of the foil and his team hope that he will be fast enough without it to hold rivals at bay.

Alex Thomson on Hugo Boss

Alex Thomson on Hugo Boss

Assuming that his boat is still structurally sound, it may be that Thomson and his boat can still hold their rivals at bay. The boat will be able to sail in non-foiling mode on port tack, and can will still be able to utilise the foil on starboard.

Fellow solo sailor Mike Golding, who is not sailing in the Vendée Globe for the first time in 16 years, posted this insight into the situation:

‘What terrible news for Alex and his team. I’d like to say I don’t know how they must all be feeling – unfortunately I do!

‘On the upside – (and we need an upside here) it sounds like the damage is confined to the foil and he can continue in the race “wounded”. So , assuming then that conditions remain stable his current buffer of <100 miles Hugo Boss could keep him in front for maybe another 4-5 days. If conditions change and he moves to the other board he may be able to hang on longer.

‘Once they reach the south proper, Alex will still be equal to, or better than, the non-foilers. Boss is still ‘the fastest boat’ on starboard and while there will be a deficit on the foilers when on port , once they get into the bigger waves perhaps even that’s not so certain…

‘The bizarre Vendée Globe virtual continent no go zone will throw some spanners in the works and starboard may become the better east going advancing gybe.

‘It’s also quite likely that there will be more foil breakage’s to come and the game could so easily still turn in Alex’s favour.

‘This is going to interesting to watch for sure and I am still rooting for Alex to pull off a miracle here, at least to Cape Horn! After that we all need to do some collective praying for the longest starboard tack routing northwards.

‘Chin up Alex: it’s still all to play for and there are loads us rooting for you to keep on impressing us…’

Alex Thomson on Hugo Boss

Alex Thomson on Hugo Boss