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Compassion Rules Pre-Start At Barcelona World Race

An emergency appendectomy put yet another hurdle between Alex Thomson and his dream of winning the Barcelona World Race. But an unprecedented decision by his fellow sailors will allow him to re-join the race once he is fit.

December 31, 2010
Sailing World

Alex Thomson Recovers from Emergency Appendectomy

An emergency appendectomy will sideline Alex Thomson for the start of the Barcelona World Race. However, an unprecendented vote by his fellow competitors will allow substitute Wouter Verbraak to sail in his place, and for Thomson to replace Verbraak once he feels healthy enough. On the plus side this will allow Thomson to also be present for the birth of his first child, expected in early January.

The Barcelona World Race was thrown for a bit of a loop this week when one of the top contenders, skipper Alex Thomson on Hugo Boss, was carted off to the hospital for emergency appendectomy just two days before the Friday start of the nonstop, doublehanded round-the world slog.

If that sounds like case closed, think again, old cock. Before the sun set on the Barcelona mole, folks were hinting he might make it back from the minimally invasive, “keyhole surgery” and be on board on Friday. “Nothing is impossible,” said one of his handlers.

That outlook was overly optimistic, but at the last hour an unprecedented compromise was reached Thursday evening to allow a stand-in, Dutchman Wouter Verbraak, to take his place for the first week or more while Thomson recuperates at home, then flies to Africa or some other propitious place to slide back in Verbraak’s stead with no penalty assessed.

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It’s not in the rules and was not an accommodation easily reached. All 26 coskippers on the 13 other race boats convened Thursday morning to vote yea or nay. The vote was overwhelmingly yea. “It seemed like the right thing to do,” said Ryan Breymaier, the only American sailor in the field. “The skippers are the heart and soul of some of these programs. To make him sit out the whole way seemed unfair.”

Verbraak, navigator for the Russian entry in the last Volvo Ocean Race and an experienced offshore hand, joins New Zealander Andy Meiklejohn on Hugo Boss, the Juan Kouyoumdjian design that is the heaviest and most powerful boat in the fleet. Meantime, Thomson will likely head home to England to be around for the scheduled birth of his first child, due Jan. 4.

Courtesy AlexThomsonRacing.co.uk| |**Substitute skipper Wouter Verbraak **|

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Sympathy contractions? The Boss camp said no, that Thomson, 36, had been suffering no symptoms at all before the early morning attack, but felt stomach pains and went to the doctor as a precaution. They added if symptoms had been delayed even by a few days, “the consequences could have been fatal.”

The BWR had already lost the Polish entry Fruit when the skippers showed, but the boat didn’t make it to the start. That dropped the fleet to 14; if Hugo Boss dropped out it would have been stuck on unlucky 13.

Otherwise it’s a fit and ready looking fleet, including two new boats in the hands of the pre-race favorites: Frenchmen Michael Desjoyeaux and Francois Gabart on the Verdier design Foncia and 2007 BWR winner Jean Pierre Dick and veteran Loick Peyron on Virbac-Paprec 3, another Verdier design.

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The fleet also includes the female team of Briton Dee Caffari and Barcelona native Anna Corbella on Gaes Centros Auditivos, the male-female duo of Dominique Wavre (he’s the guy) and Michele Paret on Mirabaud and the lone American, Annapolis rigger Breymaier, teaming with German dinghy sailor Boris Herrmann on seven-year-old Neutrogena, Roland Jourdain’s old Vendee-Globe warhorse.

The weather is calm, the sun has been flirting at the edges of an overcast, winter sky and the fleet looks surprisingly well prepared for the 25,000-mile, nonstop bash south and around Antarctica and the world’s three great capes: Good Hope, Leeuwin and Horn. They’re looking at 80-plus days if all goes according to plan, which, as the folks at Hugo Boss know, rarely happens in sailing.

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