As I write this our client, British sailor Alex Thomson and his co-skipper Guillermo Altadill, are currently racing their way across the Atlantic in the Transat Jacques Vabre (TJV). The TJV is a double-handed (i.e. two man) race from the French port of Le Havre to the Brazilian city of Itajai, and is the first race for Alex on-board his brand new multimillion pound HUGO BOSS racing yacht, which has been two years in the making. The team have worked tirelessly to create a boat that is lighter and therefore faster than Alex’s previous boats, whilst also ensuring that safety and durability is not compromised. Alex’s oft-repeated motto is “to finish first, first you have to finish” and in a sport like off-shore sailing, nothing could be more apt. The reliability of the boat is therefore priority number one, but thereafter, every decision made in the design and build process is made for speed. Alex might be on board for up to three months at a time when he is sailing around the world, but there is no room for home comforts when any extra unnecessary weight will slow you down.
Alex’s new boat incorporates many totally unique innovations and features designed to make the boat go faster. I don’t pretend to be an expert on the design of racing yachts and therefore won’t try to explain the new technical aspects of the boat here. However, one of the innovations that is easy to spot even to the untrained eye, is the fact that Alex’s new HUGO BOSS boat is black. And looks amazing. Alex has often been compared by the media to James Bond, thanks in part to the various stunts he has done on-board his boats (i.e. the KeelWalk and the MastWalk), and I think that if Bond ever was to have an IMOCA 60 racing yacht, it’d look a lot like Alex’s.
Racing yachts are predominantly, maybe exclusively (until now), white. This is because of the heat reflecting qualities of the colour white. Dark colours are usually out of bounds because of the intensity of the heat that can be experienced when out on the open water under a blazing hot sun. Black materials absorb heat, which would make the living conditions on-board unbearable, and would also lead to elements of the boat, like glue and adhesives, melting. Refer back to my previous point about durability and this is clearly a nonstarter.
However, keen to push the boundaries of what is considered possible, as always, the Alex Thomson Racing team together with their principle sponsor HUGO BOSS have been working with chemical engineering company, BASF, to develop a black paint that both reflects heat and is suitable for use in a marine environment. The end result is a totally unique racing yacht that looks like no other IMOCA 60 that has ever gone before it. And makes for a boat that I think Bond would be proud of.
But back to the TJV… the Transat Jacques Vabre gives all of the IMOCA 60s taking part the first opportunity to see how they compare in terms of speed to the other boats in their class. This will provide vital information for all the teams as they look ahead to next year’s ‘ultimate’ off-shore sailing event, the Vendee Globe. Often referred to as the ‘Everest of sailing’ the Vendee Globe is a solo, unassisted, round-the-world yacht race, and is the most gruelling sporting challenge I have ever heard of. During the race, which takes approximately three months to complete, the sailors have no physical contact with the outside world and don’t step foot anywhere near dry land for the entire duration. The solo sailors sleep for about 20 minutes every three to four hours or so for the whole three months, and have to battle the most extreme conditions that the seven seas have to throw at them. Down in the Southern Ocean, the vast expanse of water between the southern tip of Africa and Antarctica, they are several thousand miles away from land and at the mercy of winds of up to 70 miles per hour and waves as high as 10 storey buildings. There is no one around to help you when things go wrong, hence the sailors have to act as skipper, crew, engineer, navigator and medic all rolled in to one. To that last point, a sailor competing in the race some years ago was forced to sew his own tongue back on after biting it off during a storm. Yeah… The Vender Globe is extreme.
With Alex aiming to become the first Brit ever to win the Vendee Globe (last time he competed he came third, breaking a British record in the process), the experience gained during the TJV is vital. Of course Alex and his co-skipper, Guillermo, want to be at the top of that podium in Brazil, but it is also a crucial opportunity to put the boat to the test in the same conditions they will be up against in the Vendee. At the time of writing, two IMOCAS have already had to pull out of the TJV, as is often the fate of boats taking part in offshore races such as this, but the HUGO BOSS is going strong, and the boats are bunched closely together as they make their way down towards the equator. But it’s a marathon not a sprint, and a lot can happen before the boats reach the safety of Brazil. We’ll of course be following Alex and Guillermo’s progress closely for the duration of the race and you can do the same via the online tracker at http://tracking.transat-jacques-vabre.com/fr/ or by following the Alex Thomson Racing team on Facebook.
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