Dutchman Wouter Verbraak will be a temporary replacement for Alex Thomson
Following the emergency appendectomy of skipper Alex Thomson, the Hugo Boss Sailing Team have been given permission to start the Barcelona World RACE with a temporary replacement co-skipper as partner to Andy Meiklejohn (NZL).
The temporary substitute will be professional navigator and meteor routing expert Wouter Verbraak (NED), who has worked with the team for many months helping in the preparation of Hugo Boss, particularly with the navigation systems and helping the duo with their weather studies.
Alex Thomson can board Hugo Boss once he has received medical clearance, and continue the race.
Vebraak, known in crewed racing as ‘Wouter the Router’ has considerable experience in weather routing for IMOCA Open 60 teams and has raced in crews with Meiklejohn. He competed in the crew of the IMOCA Open 60 Estrella Damm on the last Istanbul Europa Race, but has very few actual hours sailing on the Juan Kouyoumdjian designed Hugo Boss.
The decision to allow the replacement co-skipper to form a temporary crew with Meikeljohn was given the unanimous backing of the other competing skippers.
Interview with Wouter Verbraak:
” I have very little experience physically sailing on the boat, but I’ve been involved with Alex Thomson racing and Alex for a long time because we’ve been working together on weather and routing strategies. So I’ve been always into the systems and know the specifics of the boat so you know we’ve had a good run through months ago.”
But actual hours on the boat?
You’re qualified as a replacement skipper having done the Volvo race ?
How are you going to operate for the first few hours or days?
” One of the choices for me as a substitute skipper was that I have a very complimentary set of skills to Andy, and Alex, so we’re ready and I think the key o the race, which is endurance, will be preparation. All those things are still in place. I’m amazed by the preparation of all the team and how well organized the boat is, so I’m pretty confident.”
Are you excited about it?
” It’s a fantastic boat to sail and I’ve worked a lot in the Open 60 class before. I did the Round Europe Race last year and I was involved from a router’s point of view for almost 10 years with this class. So I know a lot about the developments, sail developments, the way to sail these boats, I’ve always had a lot of interaction with the guys on the boats, so I have a considerable knowledge in that way.”
Will you be keen to get off when the time comes for Alex to take over?
” Yes and no. I haven’t prepared fully to do a round the world race, so with my family it will be good to just do these 10-14 days and be done with it. But really the focus is to do a good job.”
Do you feel confident you could do a good job?
” Obviously the forecast is looking favourable for me to get into it all. There’s not a 40 knot front coming through in the first two nights so we have some time to get into the system, and there’s some difficult decisions to be made in the first 24 hours to 4 days, but these are mainly tactical.
Interview with Andy Meiklejohn:
How are you feeling?
” To be honest I’m feeling relieved now it’s official, we’ve got the confirmation from the race committee. The waiting’s been really hard, so many decisions to be made and it’s easy to listen to speculation.”
Presumably there’s a time you were thinking you wouldn’t go?
” Yes, that was realistic and that was one of the possible options. Nobody wanted that, and fortunately everybody’s worked together to find a suitable solution”
How confident are you of sailing the boat at something close to potential?
” Oh definitely we can push the boat to its potential, but there is the lack of knowledge on the boat – you know Alex’s experience on the boat is being replaced by Wouter, who’s an incredibly experienced sailor but not experienced on this boat. We’re going to be selective with our times when we sail to the maximum.”
What will be your key strategies for the first part of the race?
” The key strategies will be to get each other into a routine, it’s going to be a little different because I know the boat so I’m going to have to be around a lot more for everything. So were going to split the roles a little bit differently, you know Wouter will do a lot just of navigation, I’ll do a lot more of just sailing, whereas with Alex we’d share it more. So the focus is just going to be to get this routine going and get Wouter more confident with the boat. And not panic. He’s a fantastic navigator, a Volvo navigator and America’s Cup navigator so we’re not losing anything in the technical side, it’s just us developing a routine and keeping the boat in one piece.”