the record that wasn't

Over the weekend British sailor Alex Thompson racing in the Vendée Globe was shredding the course with his speed at times averaging in the mid 20 knot range. He, along with five other competitors, are in a leading pack that is riding a tight low pressure system that is propelling them past the latitude of Cape Town and soon into the Southern Ocean.

Thompson aboard Hugo Boss has been leading the group and seems to be pushing the hardest. Indeed he pushed so hard that he bettered the fastest 24-hour solo speed record set in the last Vendée Globe by François Gabart. Gabart’s distance of 534.48 nautical miles was an astounding accomplishment, but Thompson bettered it by sailing 535.34 nautical miles. A new record right?  That’s what I would have thought but it’s not to be. Apparently the official rules of the record state it must be broken by one whole mile in order to be recognized. And Thomson’s distance falls short of that by just 259 meters. It was a record that was that wasn’t.

To add insult to injury Hugo Boss collided with a submerged object which ripped the starboard foil off slowing the boat down at a time when he could have, in the following hours, upped his mileage to break the record. Just to be clear the 24-hour record is not a noon-to-noon kind of record; it’s the fastest 24-hours over any 24-hour period so it could be noon-to-noon or it could be midnight-to-midnight but in any case with his boat crippled Thompson was forced to slow down.

It’s unclear how much the lost foil will cost him. Right now the wind is blowing 30 knots out of the north-northwest which means they are essentially sailing downwind, a point of sail where the foils would probably be retracted. If the Southern Ocean dishes up it’s usual wind conditions much of the next ten thousand miles will be downwind and therefore the loss of the starboard foil won’t be felt that much. Once they round Cape Horn it’s a different story.
Most of the voyage up the coast of South America will be on starboard tack meaning that Thompson can make full use of the port foil. As they get closer to the equator it will more than likely than not be on starboard take again allowing him to use the port foil and even once back in the Northern Hemisphere as the boats skirt the Azores High much of the sailing will be done on starboard tack so while losing his starboard foils is a huge blow, it may not be a fatal blow. Only time will tell and judging by the pace of this race I feel certain that François Gabart’s 24-hour record will be toppled, if not by Hug Boss by one of the chasing pack.
Brian Hancock.