North Atlantic Has No Mercy for Velux Racers

"First Beat" from our October 31, 2006 /SW eNewsletter/.


It's 12,000 miles from Bilbao, Spain to Fremantle, Australia, and for the seven solo sailors competing in the Velux 5 Oceans Race, that distance won't come easily. Barely one week into the race- a three-leg, round-the-world affair that finishes back in Bilbao in April 2007- competitors have already seen the extremes of Mother Nature's playbook, from crippling gale to ghastly calm. England's Alex Thompson has been on the losing end of both extremes. Thompson led the fleet into the Bay of Biscay last Sunday, but a brutal 24 hours slogging to windward in large seas and gale force winds took its toll on his Open 60 Hugo Boss. First the starboard runner winch blew out, then the boat's keel snagged a fishing net. A 50-knot blast on Monday shredded Thompson's headsail and knocked Hugo Boss on its side. Twenty-seven hours into the race, Thompson turned towards Gijon, Spain, for repairs. When Thompson returned to the race on Wednesday night, the wind promptly died and has remained variable ever since. Thompson is determined to settle into a routine and make up for lost time, but his frustration seems to be mounting. "It's been a very difficult 24 hours," reported Thompson on Monday, "I've lost miles, gone nowhere, gone the wrong way, and had little sleep." Because his autopilot is unreliable in the light breeze, Thompson has had no choice but to take the helm himself much of the time. At one point on Sunday, he dozed off and awoke to find his boat headed in the wrong direction. Later in the day, his boat was completely becalmed and he felt the urge to take a dip in the North Atlantic. Given his recent luck, however, Thompson decided to forgo the swim. "It would have been just my luck for a 20-knot gust to take Hugo Boss over the horizon, the pilot driving happily, chuckling to itself," said Thompson. Thompson currently sits in fourth place, about 100 miles behind Mike Golding, 400 miles behind Kojiro Shiraishi, and 600 miles behind Bernard Stamm. Both Shiraishi and Stamm weathered the storm that sent Thompson, Golding, Unai Basurko, and Sir Robin Knox-Johnson ducking for cover. Graham Dalton did not start until last Friday; Tim Troy has yet to start, and remains in La Rochelle, France, preparing his boat for IMOCA certification. To view photos from the first week of the Velux 5 Oceans Race, click here.