If you held the record for being the youngest person to win a round-the-world sailing competition and you also stood on the keel of a powerful racing yacht for fun, people might call you a maverick.
But skipper Alex Thomson, who lives in Gosport, denies this, despite being a day away from launching a third attempt at completing the toughest solo non-stop round-the-world sailing competition, the Vendée Globe.
The 37-year-old faces the daunting prospect of manning his 18-metre long Hugo Boss yacht solo for three months with an air of confidence.
‘I’ve got a reputation of being a maverick or daredevil,’ he said.
‘That’s all people’s perceptions to be honest but great. It’s better than being considered slow.
But Alex knows that doing the work of 10 people, 24 hours a day for 12 weeks, is no easy task, as problems on the water could prove fatal.
He said: ‘A lot of people say that “you must worry that you’re going to die”, but I never worry do.
‘We are operating a Formula One car on the fraction of the budget and a fraction of the team.
‘Then instead of chucking it down a Formula One track, we’re putting it down a rally track.
‘It’s a brutal sport. It would be fine if it was Formula One and we had 20 races a year but we’ve got two every four years.
‘Your brain is screaming that “you’re going to die, you’re going to die”, so one of the issues is how do you control that fear and be able to get to bed and sleep?’
With his wife Kate and one-year-old son Oscar back home, Alex says that it is not him that is worried.
While he is in control out in the ocean, they have to follow updates about his progress.
‘You’ve got to have full support of your family. It’s very difficult for the people left behind, to be honest.
‘It’s probably harder for them than what I have to do when I’m on the boat.
‘For me, it’s normal but for the people left at home, they’re left wondering.
‘It’s the unknown, whereas I’m in control of my own destiny.
‘In a way, it’s almost harder for them than it is for the mugs out in the sea.’
But Alex will never be alone in the ocean, as the long and arduous voyage will see him develop an almost symbiotic relationship with his five-year-old Open 60 monohull yacht.
He has already put this into practice, after taking the boat out to smash a transatlantic crossing record at the Transat competition by more than a day, before the Olympic Games earlier this year.
‘She looks after you and she works hard, we break records together, she’s my livelihood,’ he said.
‘If you’re a painter and decorator you need a van, without your van... it’s a bit like that but even more so.’
Claiming that the record-smashing race was ‘an exercise,’ a flash of Alex’s confidence in the strength of both himself and the boat shines through.
Yet that powerful relationship is made all the more real when races do not go to plan.
In 2004, Alex had to abandon the Vendée Globe due to damage to his boat’s deck and mainsail, with his second attempt in 2008 thwarted by a collision with a fishing boat, on the way to the start line.
And in 2006, he capsized in the Velux 5 Oceans Race due to a damaged keel, having to be rescued by fellow English sailor, Mike Golding.
‘You do build a relationship (with the boat),’ he said.
‘When I lost my boat in 2006, I came back and sat down with Ken my psychologist and talked about it quite a lot. Really, the overriding emotion that was involved was actually sadness,’ he said.
‘Although I nearly lost my life I was more sad than I was scared, and that came down to the fact that the boat becomes part of you.’
For this year’s Vendée Globe, Alex and his team are taking few chances, with the boat optimised for reliability, rather than performance.
THE Vendée Globe will test the endurance of both skipper and yacht over the course of a three-month round-the-world race.
This year there will be 20 solo skippers vying for first place in the race, which starts tomorrow at Les Sables d’Olonne in France.
The race runs from west to east, with the skippers navigating round the Cape of Good Hope, Cape Leeuwin and Cape Horn, without a single stop.
This will see the racers shoot down the Atlantic, across the Southern Ocean and the Indian Oceans.
They will then travel the globe’s biggest ocean, the Pacific Ocean, before making their climb back up to the Atlantic and back to the finish line at Les Sables d’Olonne.
Gosport-based Alex Thomson will be competing against fellow British sailors, Mike Golding and Samantha Davies.
He said: ‘There’s probably only 12 boats who could win it, there’s a 10
per cent chance of winning it; it’s a race of elimination. It’s a very, very elite club.’