Inside a state-of-the-art racing yacht used to circumnavigate the globe – it cost £5million but still doesn’t come with a toilet or kitchen
- Alex Thomson is a British yachtsman who came second in the Vendée Globe in 2017 on board the Hugo Boss
- The father-of-two sped around the world single-handedly in 74 days, 19 hours and 35 minutes
- He consumes up to 7,000 calories a day when he’s racing and says Parmesan cheese is a good energy source
I once capsized a tiny catamaran – something which is apparently pretty much impossible – and on a school trip while canoeing with my teacher on a lake, because I struggled with the steering, we ended up going around in circles for a worrying amount of time.
So when I was invited to have a crack at sailing Alex Thomson’s £5million round-the-world yacht – the Hugo Boss – I took on the challenge with mild trepidation. Hopefully I wouldn’t bring about its demise.
On boarding the slick-looking carbon fibre vessel in Portsmouth – which Alex used last year to speed around the world single-handedly in 74 days, 19 hours and 35 minutes – I quickly learned there was no toilet, the kitchen consisted of a gas burner, and sailing at speed would require all hands on deck.
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MailOnline Travel’s Sadie Whitelocks, pictured, had a go at sailing Alex Thomson’s £5million round-the-world yacht. Above, she is pictured sailing the vessel in the Solent
Alex sped around the world single-handedly on the Hugo Boss last year in 74 days, 19 hours and 35 minutes
Luckily it was a windy day and Alex was clearly excited about the blustery conditions.
While the 44-year-old sailed the 60ft yacht alone in the 2017 Vendée Globe race, in which he came second, on the day I boarded, we were accompanied by a crew to take the pressure off. Phew!
Before we left the marina and things got wobbly, the British yachtsman gave me a tour of his boat.
He explained that to minimize its weight, the aerodynamic structure has extremely simple interiors.
The deck outside features angled grips on the floor to prevent Alex from slipping and sliding in choppy conditions while the belly of the boat is a cavernous space, playing host to a storage area and makeshift bed.
Alex has been sailing since a child. He is planning to attempt the Vendée Globe around-the-world race again in 2020 in a bid to score first place
Sadie has a go at ‘grinding’. This activity required her to bicycle a wheel around using her arm power to control the sails
Alex showed me the kitchen, which consisted of a tiny area with a little gas canister fixed into place.
He uses the piece of kit to boil water and rustle up meals from dehydrated and freeze-dried food packs while he’s speeding along. A true master of multi-tasking.
One of his favourite delicacies while he’s racing on the high seas is a beef and cheese casserole, while chunks of Parmesan, slithers of Spanish ham and peanuts are other good sources of energy.
When he’s in the midst of circumnavigating the globe – a feat he has accomplished three times and is due to undertake again in 2020 – he can eat up to 7,000 calories a day.
He joked: ‘That’s the equivalent of 14 Big Macs but somehow I always come back lighter. I lost 100lbs on my last race.’
The bed, meanwhile, is merely a flat surface he flings a mattress on. Alex says that he sleeps as little as possible when he’s racing but tries to get enough kip so he can make rational decisions.
He tends to nap for between five minutes and one hour, but no longer.
To make sure he doesn’t oversleep, putting him at danger of veering off course, Alex has an extremely loud industrial-style alarm, which almost deafens me when he switches it on.
The yacht’s kitchen consists of a tiny area with a little gas canister fixed into place, pictured. Alex uses the piece of kit to boil water and rustle up meals from dehydrated and freeze-dried food packs while he’s speeding along
Along with steering and grinding, Alex spends much of his day while racing around the world analysing weather data on a small computer screen – to make sure there are no dangers on the horizon
The bed is merely a flat surface he flings a mattress on. Alex says that he sleeps as little as possible when he’s racing but tries to get enough kip so he can make rational decisions. He tends to nap for between five minutes and one hour, but no longer
On the toilet front, Alex uses a bucket that has a wide body and a slender neck, to prevent any spills. The contents are then thrown overboard.
After a speedy tour of the sportsman’s boat, we got going on the water.
Watching the boat come alive was quite a magnificent show, with Alex directing the crew to get the sails lifted.
After a gentle start out of the harbour, suddenly we were off.
At one point, thanks to the strong wind, we managed to reach a speed of 29 miles an hour – the boat reaches a maximum of 40mph when it’s at full pelt.
One of the scariest things when you’re on the boat, is the way it leans at an extreme angle as it cuts through the waves. But thanks to hydrofoils (wing-like fins on the belly), the vessel never tips up.
After getting suitably drenched by water gushing over the deck, I had a go at ‘grinding’. This activity required me to bicycle a wheel around using my arm power in a bid to control the sails.
Alex says he does this five to six times a day when he’s racing. I felt suitably exhausted after one round of grinding and the thought of more filled me with dread.
After a bit of an arm workout, I had a go at steering.
To minimize weight, the aerodynamic yacht has extremely simple interiors. The deck outside features angled grips on the floor to prevent Alex from slipping and sliding in choppy conditions while the belly of the boat is a cavernous space
What is the Vendée Globe race?
- The Vendée Globe is the hardest and most famous sailing race in the world. Nicknamed the Everest of the Seas, it involves sailing around the world alone, without stopping and without assistance, setting sail from and finishing in Les Sables d’Olonne, after rounding the three legendary capes: The Cape of Good Hope in South Africa, Cape Leeuwin in Southern Australia and the infamous Cape Horn at the tip of South America.
- The first Vendée Globe race, in 1968, was won by Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, who crossed the finish line in 312 days.
- In the last race Alex Thomson crossed the finish line in just 74 days, 19 hours and 35 minutes and broke the World Record he already held as the fastest Briton to sail single-handedly, non-stop around the world.
- He says 40 to 60 per cent of competitors who start the race will not finish.
- The next race will start on Sunday 8, November 2020.
Alex informed me: ‘If you move the tiller (steering stick) to the left, the boat turns right; move the tiller right, and the boat goes left.’
I was surprised at how sensitive the steering stick was. As the yacht suddenly veered to the right, visions of my catamaran incident came flooding back. Luckily, I managed to keep things upright this time.
Along with steering and grinding, Alex spends much of his day while racing around the world analysing weather data on a small computer screen – to make sure there are no dangers on the horizon.
After a session out sailing, I was left with a sense of awe as to how Alex does this all alone.
Talking about his profession, the father-of-two concluded: ‘The Vendée Globe around the world race is the most difficult sport left in the world today. It’s not just physically challenging, but also mentally.
‘It’s just one boat and one person. It’s less about technology and more about adventure. Human management in a very extreme way. I have to be the navigator, the medic, the cook, the cleaner and more while I’m on the go.
‘It certainly is a conversation-stopper at dinner parties when I tell people what it is I do.’
There’s clearly no taking the wind out of Alex’s sails and his new boat for the 2020 Vendée Globe is set to be slicker and speedier than ever.
MailOnline Travel was invited to sail on the Hugo Boss by Opihr gin to celebrate the launch of its three new ready-to-drink flavours. Alex Thomson is an ambassador for the drinks brand and it was the official sponsor of this year’s Lendy Cowes Week sailing regatta.
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