Nightmarish Vendée Globe for Thomson: rudder problem for Hugo Boss


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There isno peace for Alex Thomson at the Vendée Globe. The Briton had gone through a complex repair to the bow that kept him busy for more than 48 hours, between slowdowns to laminate reinforcements and phases where he was starting to sail at his best again, and by yesterday day he was officially back in the race. Hugo Boss in the few hours that Thomson was able to sail properly had proved to be the fastest boat in the fleet, but another tile has arrived, and this one could be very heavy: the skipper has reported that he has a problem with his starboard rudder.

No statement has been released as to the reason for the problem, but in such cases it is an impact with an object or subsidence. In the second case it would be the second within a few days, with the feeling that Thomson’s dream of being the first non-French sailor to win the Vendée Globe is turning into a nightmare. We will know more in the coming hours, but the feeling at this point that something has gone wrong in the Hugo Boss design is starting to creep in, and as much as Thomson and his team are proving themselves ready to deal with any critical issues, this may no longer be enough.

It is too early to draw conclusions, pending whether or not this technical problem can also be addressed. It is unclear whether Thomson has a respectable paddle on board, possible, but that may not be enough, and in any case, replacing an Imoca’s paddle in the middle of the ocean is no easy game. Damage to rudders then is often not limited to just the appendage but can also involve the linkage systems; in short, it is one of the most sensitive and critical components of the boat. Thomson has shown that he has energy to deal with even the worst critical issues, but the psychological backlash after the bow problem may have been severe.

On the web and social media meanwhile, criticism is being levelled at the new generation of Imoca, guilty in the view of some of the public of being too fragile. In fact, this 2020 Vendée Globe, so far, and in comparison to the previous two editions, has shown us a substantial solidity of the fleet. Only one boat is reported withdrawn, Corum for dismasting, a significantly better percentage than in the 2016 editions and especially compared to the 2012 edition where the first few weeks of racing had done significant damage to the fleet at a time when foils on the Imoca did not yet exist.

Technical mishaps are part of the Vendée Globe. Indeed, it should not be forgotten that the Imoca 60s are in effect carbon prototypes, extreme boats in many ways participating in an extreme regatta. Making an automotive comparison is like talking about a car or motorcycle participating in the Paris-Dakar, in short, it is not surprising that these boats suffer from technical problems. More disturbing is the fact that in the space of a week Hugo Boss has suffered repeatedly, but this episode cannot be taken as a cue to judge the entire fleet of new foilers, which is certainly showing frailties, but the accounts will have to be made in the end with rankings in hand.

And it is indeed a new foiler, Apivia, who is in fact dominating the race at the moment with a lead of over 300 miles over the second, Thomas Ruyant who is sailing with only one foil. The group, however, is making a clear comeback over the leader, and the good news is that also in the middle of the tussle is our own Giancarlo Pedote on Prysmian Group, 11th at 594 miles from the leader and absolutely running in the group that counts.

Mauro Giuffrè



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