Alex Thomson and his co-skipper Neal McDonald have been forced to abandon the recently launched IMOCA 60’s keel after striking a submerged object at high speed

The first major test for Vendée Globe contender Alex Thomson’s new IMOCA 60 Hugo Boss has ended with Thomson jettisoning the yacht’s keel after hitting a submerged object during the Transat Jacques Vabres Normandie Le Havre race.

Thomson was competing in the Transat Jacques Vabres transatlantic race from Le Harve to Brazil with co-skipper Neal McDonald when the collision took place around 380 miles west-north-west of the Canary Islands.

In a statement released by Thomson’s racing team on 3 November, it was confirmed that: “At around 0937 UK time yesterday (Sunday) morning, while sailing at approximately 25 knots, Thomson and McDonald hit a submerged unidentified object in the water. Both skippers escaped without major injuries.”

The submerged object has not yet been identified, but the collision was strong enough to cause critical damage to the keel, which only remained attached by the hydraulic ram of the canting mechanism.


Photo: Alex Thomson Racing

Speaking from onboard the boat after the incident, Thomson said: “This morning, Neal and I were both awake, going about 25 knots, when we hit something in the water. I was stood inside the cockpit just behind the pedestal. Neal was just behind the cockpit door.

“We’re not sure what we hit but it was something big under the water, which must have been submerged to have hit our keel and physically stop the boat at 25 knots. The keel sustained a lot of damage and it was left attached only by the hydraulic ram.

“Neal and I are both physically OK. No major injuries, just some bruises. We were very lucky. If you were to get into your car, close your eyes, and drive at 40 miles an hour into a brick wall… that’s what it felt like!”

In a further update this morning (4 November), the Alex Thomson Racing team reported that despite Thomson and McDonald’s attempts to stabilise the keel, the decision was made to detach the fin and bulb to reduce the risk of damage to the hull. The keel was cut loose in the early hours of November 4.

The team’s statement explains: “Despite their very best efforts, it became clear that keeping the keel attached would put the boat at great risk. With the keel attached only by the hydraulic ram, and in an unstable position, there was a serious risk of significant damage to the hull.

“We did everything that we could to preserve the keel but collectively we determined that it was far too dangerous to keep it in place. Therefore, with guidance from our team shore-side, Alex and Neal set about cutting the hydraulic ram to free the keel from the boat. After many hours, they were successful in their efforts and the keel is now no longer attached to the boat.”

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Hugo Boss is currently underway at low speed, with the ballast tanks filled and foils fully extended for as much stability as possible. It is currently in light easterly winds with a slight sea state. His team report there is no immediate risk to the boat or the skippers. The team is currently working on a strategy to safely bring the boat to port.

The incident comes just weeks after Thomson’s newest Hugo Boss was launched. Thomson is aiming to win the 2020 Vendée Globe, having come 2nd in the 2016 edition and 3rd in the 2012 race, but this will represent a significant setback to the campaign. The pair were seven days into the 4,350 mile race from Le Havre, France to Salvador, Brazil, and were not among the leading bunch at the time, after early sail damage forced them to opt for an unfavourable westerly route.

In October 2015, Thomson was rescued from his previous Hugo Boss in that year’s Transat Jaques Vabre race after reporting a ‘rogue wave’ had capsized the yacht, dismasting her and leaving the IMOCA 60 flooded and disabled. He and his co-skipper were airlifted to safety. Thomson’s team later retrieved the yacht and rebuilt it, before Thomson went on to sail it to a famous 2nd place in the last Vendée Globe.