When aboard the 60-foot long Hugo Boss racing yacht, Alex Thomson basically never stops talking. He is either politely answering questions about his career choice, or doling out instructions, mostly minute details, to his two crew mates as the vessel skims along on the outskirts of English Bay at approximately 15 kilometres per hour, a full 40 kilometres per hour less than its top racing speed.
Thomson is a sailor through and through, knowing this extensive boat like the back of the proverbial hand, and able to skipper the thing around the world, solo. This he has done several times now, mostly in the event called the Vendée Globe, one of the most severe sailing tests on this planet. It begins and ends just off the coast of France, and takes just over 80 days to complete. Of those who begin the race, typically less than 50 per cent complete it. Once a boat is loaded and hits the water, no additional goods or materials of any kind are allowed to be placed on board, and the sailor cannot under any circumstances set foot on land; disqualification is the result.
As he surveys the tanker ships and float planes that constitute the accessories on the natural beauty of this place on a sunny summer day, he says, “Sailing is not an easy job, but I can’t imagine doing anything else.” Like all successful professional athletes, Thomson trains extensively. “I trained myself, with plenty of professional help, to sleep 20 minutes every two hours. This way, I am always able to keep close watch on how the boat is doing, and I am alert. Otherwise, it’s just too dangerous out on the open water.”
This pleasure jaunt from Coal Harbour to English Bay and then out to sea for a bit is the equivalent of a constitutional stroll for him, but he nonetheless is clearly in his element. The boat’s sails, one side white on black, the other black on white, attract plenty of attention from fellow sea goers, including the Vancouver Police Department patrol boat that comes alongside for a quick and friendly chat.
All in a day’s work, promoting his sport, and sharing his passion for it all.