Sitting down with Alex Thomson

Published on March 5th, 2023

Shirley Robertson

This edition of Shirley Robertson’s Sailing Podcast captures one of offshore sailing’s most active campaigners, a sailor who’s career spans two decades at the highest level of the sport and includes a record equaling five Vendee Globe starts.

Alex Thomson, widely known for his Vendee campaigns sailing a series of iconic Hugo Boss IMOCA, has done much to raise awareness of offshore sailing and with his team, has been responsible for some of the most innovative developments the monohull IMOCA Class has ever seen.

While much of Thomson’s discussion in this two part podcast centers around his various Vendee Globe campaigns, there’s also much to cover about Thomson’s remarkable career path, time spent sailing with Sir Robin Knox Johnston, and the result of his time spent with British business tycoon Sir Keith Mills:

“We met at Shoreham airport, we flew to Brest, and he bought me a boat for 1.1 million Euros….That level of belief, in me, at that time, was difficult to comprehend really.”

Thomson is candid about his first campaign, as he is throughout the chat with Robertson, and reveals much about how, along with Sir Keith Mills, they brought Hugo Boss into what would go on to become one of the longest sponsorship partnerships in the sport.

Thomson has also had an eventful career that’s involved a series of very high profile sinkings and race retirements, not least when keel damage to the original Hugo Boss famously left him floundering deep in the South Atlantic. But the drama doesn’t end with keel damage.

Having discussed the cause of a very public falling out with fellow British offshore sailor Mike Golding, “…the next day in the Sunday Times, Mike called me a jumped up little prick!”, Thomson discusses how, with his keel dangling uselessly from the hull, the only chance of rescue was of course, with Mike Golding, who pulled off a daring rescue with catastrophic circumstances:

Alex Thomson

“I was on the boat for about three hours…the wind hit, the boat leaned over, and his mast just collapsed, Mike is standing in the cockpit with his mouth open, and I’m now feeling guilty…I said to Mike, ‘I am so sorry…'”

Thomson’s memories of the daring rescue, Golding’s unfaltering seamanship and the awkward incidents that followed is a first hand account of offshore folklore not to be missed. It’s a fascinating tale told by one of only two people that were actually there.

There is of course much chat between the pair of Thomson’s sailing adventures, but also of his series of daring stunts that have netted him over 10 million views on YouTube alone. The evolution of the idea, the execution of the stunts themselves and Thomson’s desire to bring new audiences to his offshore campaigns are all talked through in this revealing chat…:

“Hugo Boss had done a trick shot video with Martin Kymer, the German golfer, and put it on the internet and they told us they had fifty thousand views….and I went back to the team and said ‘we’ve got to come up with an idea, put it on the internet and get more than fifty thousand views’…so we got a couple of suits…shot it….and we put it on the internet and…a million views in a week!”

This is a fascinating insight into the career of a man that has spent over two decades chasing a dream to win one of offshore sailing’s biggest accolades, he’s gone against convention, pushed boundaries of design, and suffered some well publicized failures, but most interestingly in this chat with Robertson, Alex Thomson also suggests that when it comes to trying to win the Vendee Globe, he’s not quite done yet.

This edition of the podcast is in two parts:

Part 1:

Part 2:

Shirley Robertson OBE made history by becoming the first British woman to win Olympic Gold Medals at two consecutive Olympic Games. Shirley Robertson’s Sailing Podcast, produced and edited by Tim Butt of Vertigo Films, is available to listen on her website or via most popular podcast outlets, including iTunes, Spotify, Google Podcast, and aCast.

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