Thompson gets 5th place and deserves an award for boatbulding halfway round the world, reports Elaine Bunting
Perched on the bow of Bahrain Team Pindar with his arms in the air, Brian Thompson cut a joyful figure as he crossed the finish line this morning. In bright sunshine, the Cowes-based sailor completed what has been a marathon ordeal to take 5th place, a result better than he had ever dared hope.
When I congratulated him later and remarked how incredibly well he’d done, the quiet-spoken Thompson replied: “Yes. I did. I would never normally say that. But I did really well.”
Thompson was alluding to his multitude of problems on Bahrain Team Pindar, which have plagued him since the first days of the race and have seen him tackling “a major repair” to the boat or gear every single day since 24 December. The final straw came last night when the stainless steel keel pin succumbed to fatigue and snapped completely, allowing the keel to swing free on one side – something that would have wrecked his race had it happened a week or two earlier.
This brings the number of serious keel problems in this edition of the Vendée Globe to a shocking six out of 30 boats.
Thompson’s worst tribulations involved structural weaknesses. He had to cut and use floor boards to splint major cracks in his ballast tanks and around one of the rudders. At one point in the Southern Ocean he spent three solid days making repairs.
The troubles continued with keel ram problems, watermaker problems, alternator problems and robbed Thompson of the chance to concentrate on racing his boat. But it is for virtually boatbuilding halfway round the world that his achievement will be remembered, and many observers, YW included, doubt that many other skippers could have managed what he has.
Even before that, Thompson had lost his competitive position in the South Atlantic when he was asked to take a four-hour penalty for a rules infringement at the start. He was given a limited window to remain stationary for four hours and the timing of this panned out eventually to a 500-mile loss – something all too visible by the subsequent progress of Dominique Wavre, his closest rival at the time.
Confused and annoyed as he is by the timing of the penalty, Thompson is philosophical about it, and actually believes it might have led to him finishing the race successfully. “I’m still not happy about it, but perhaps it was a good thing,” he muses, “because then I was out of the leading pack and was able to sail my own race. The leaders were going faster and faster until there were only two left.”
While his 5th place is a superb achievement after such a difficult race, it also marks an interesting crossroads for the IMOCA 60 class. His Juan Kouyoumdjian design was widely regarded as the fastest in the fleet, and envied as the dark horse of the race. With its wide beam, tall rig and power, it Mike Golding termed it ‘the nuclear option’.
That power did not turn out to be a decisive factor in this Vendée Globe. Reliability and sea time have proved more important and skippers are looking through different eyes at the development of the class. “It was a designer’s boat,” comments fellow skipper Jean Le Cam tellingly.
Asked probingly if he had a love-hate relationship with his boat, Thompson denied it, though. “I love the boat,” he said. “I know everything about it now and it’s going to be a very competitive boat in the future.”