Vendée Globe at high tension: here’s what may have happened on Hugo Boss


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Tense hours at the Vendée Globe, the regatta is in danger of losing another of its key players as well as one of the candidates for overall victory. Alex Thomson reported overnight that he feared structural damage aboard Hugo Boss. The Briton is still on course, but at a reduced speed of 6 knots, waiting for directions from his shore team.

The exact cause of the problem is unknown, but we hear that Ross Daniel, Alex Thomson’s technical manager in all his challenges, has alerted the VPLP firm that designed the boat, and at work on the problem are all the team’s engineers. Even before the possible accident, the feeling was that Thomson was no longer keeping his foot on the accelerator. Another fact is interesting: around the time the problem occurred on Hugo Boss, it is noticeable how Thomas Ruyant had also slowed to 5 knots, and how Apivia had rested almost to approach Thomson. Initially, it was not to be ruled out that the three may have radioed each other after observing abnormal speed in the opponent to see if he needed assistance. It was later discovered that Ruyant’s slowdown was caused by a broken masthead halyard for the asymmetrical, and the Frenchman will have to go up the mast to fix the problem since already a first masthead halyard has been out of action for a few days.

At the time of Thomson’s possible crash, weather conditions were not particularly challenging, with winds around 15 knots decreasing, but the leading trio had been coming in from 3 days at very high speeds, and it is not ruled out that there could be active grooves in the area.

Ruyant’s speed at the time when the problem should have occurred aboard Hugo Boss

What we can assume, although nothing factually is ruled out at the moment, is that it should not be a tree problem. In fact, the course is unchanged; in case of mast problems, one would notice the classic downwind “drift” or a sudden change of tack. From the few lines released by the Hugo Boss team, there is mention of a “possible structural problem.” Even the keel, being a now decidedly safe One Design component, should not be affected. In foilers, one of the boat’s critical points is the foil attachment area, which must withstand significant stresses. There always remains the bogeyman of a collision with a UFO, but usually after a collision the course would be abnormal, because skippers modify it, perhaps even changing tack, to note any damage. Thus, the possibility of a major structural failure that could affect the hull or deck, most likely in the area of the drifts, remains on the table. Hugo Boss’s current position is about 800 miles east of Rio de Janeiro, the skipper is in no danger and awaiting instructions from his shore team on what to do, the course remains unchanged. An update is expected soon.


Hugo Boss has gybed and is heading southwest. A very psychologically delicate moment for Thomson, as of now he has effectively abandoned the race course and is only thinking about damage assessment on board. The scenarios at this point all remain open. However, it seems unlikely to be a mast problem; damage to the foils, hull or deck remain the most plausible hypotheses.

Mauro Giuffrè





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