A collision at the start, bruising sail changes and two near misses in the night: it's all action for Alex Thomson and Bilou

‘Bilou’ (Roland Jourdain’s nickname) summarised his first night racing board Open 60 Sill with co-skipper Alex Thomson as “everything you wouldn’t wish for at the start of any race!” Rough seas, container ships, hull damage and high winds?all on one plate.

The monohulls had a spectacular and dramatic start yesterday at 1500hrs French time in 20 knots of wind against the tide, so there were plenty of white horses and a lot of action as the pack of 22 boats charged over the line to face head on the strongest conditions at sea in the English Channel.

Alex went on to talk about the dramas of their race so far: “We had a shocker at the start, ’60 Sud’ barged in on port tack, turned the wheel pretty hard and smacked our bow, so I started the race hanging over the side filling in a tennis ball sized hole with Sikaflex! It didn’t penetrate the first skin though and this has been repaired.

“We’ve been racing hard all night, the seas have been nasty. At about 11pm last night both of us were on the foredeck ready for the sail change to the ORC jib, but the wind built so quickly to about 39 knots, we were both washed right down the deck and Bilou got a cut on his hand.

“When we were off Cherbourg changing from Solent to staysail we came to within 50 yards of a boat with no lights on, and we think it was Virbac or PRB, but since then we’ve seen nobody. But we very nearly collided with a cargo ship which was coming straight for us even though we had our active echo on, lights and all. I was up on deck and had to take evasive action, and they passed 1 and a half boat lengths from our port side!

“Conditions have been manageable rather than survival, we have a great routine on board – we both stay on deck and get smashed up and down, then one of us goes and lies down for a bit, then we come back up and do it all over again! The front passed over and the wind has begun to swing round about 10 minutes ago, we tacked after the front, although for an hour we thought we might tack back but then the wind came round some more and we thought it was okay.

“We are just making Ushant now, and I think by the end of the day we’ll see which other boats have had to put in another tack or not to get round. Ecover is pushing hard, they have a good lead and show how strong they are upwind. We did eat into their lead overnight and before too long we’ll be back up there on their tail.

“Right now there are blue skies, it’s bloody cold though, we’ve got 2 reefs in the main and the ORC jib up, the wind is at 35 – 40 knots, heading 245 – 50 degrees. I’m having such a great time, I thrive on this kind of challenge and love being on the foredeck in 40 knots. Bilou keeps smiling all the time, it’s a pleasure to be racing with someone who only has one mood – happy!”