Solo round-the world sailor Alex Thomson is gearing up for his latest challenge as he sets a course for the 2020 Vendee Globe.
In preparation for his fifth attempt at the 24,000-mile, single-handed race, Gosport-based Thomson will be on the start line of the transatlantic Route Du Rhum race on November 4.
Previously won by compatriot Ellen MacArthur in 2002, Thomson sees the competition, lasting 3,000 miles from Saint Malo to Guadeloupe, as the perfect place to begin his long road to Vendee Globe glory.
He said: ‘I want to win it, that’s one part of it.
‘It’s a bit of a benchmarking in terms of where everyone is with their boats. It will be fascinating to see where they are with it.
‘In this race you have the opportunity to go hell for leather and we would expect to see higher performance stats during this race.’
Thomson, backed by Hugo Boss for much of his career, will be making his fifth attempt at the Vendee Globe in 2020, having come agonisingly close with a second place in the 2016-2017 edition.
His first two efforts in 2004-2005 and 2008-2009 ended in retirement through a hole in the deck and a cracked hull respectively.
He finally made it to the finish line in the 2012-2013 race, finishing third.
The 2016 edition saw Thomson come second to Armel Le Cléac'h, having suffered damage to his starboard foil on day 12, before setting a 24-hour speed record of 536.81 nautical miles.
He miraculously completed the race in 74 days, 19 hours, 35 minutes and 15 minutes – the second-fastest ever time behind Le Cléac'h.
This time around Thomson, who will race the Vandee Globe aboard a brand new £5m IMOCA 60 racing yacht, feels he can claim the elusive prize in what he considers the toughest test on the planet.
He added: ‘I feel positive we can do something because each time we are getting better and stronger and learning.
‘We are methodically going through the process and improving all the time and last time we got the point where we could have won, so next time we need to win.
‘We need the human me and the boat to peak at the same time.
‘I think everything was in place for us to win last time until we suffered damage.’
More recently, Thomson, 44, has acted as mentor to Young Sailor of the Year Montell Fagan-Jordan.
Fagan-Jordan, from Hackney, continues to spend time working with and learning from Thomson’s team.
Thomson said: ‘Along the way I’ve been mentored by a lot of people, including Sir Robin Knox-Johnston and Sir Keith Mills. They are both very influential figures in my life and I’ve now reached the point where I can do something like that for someone else.
‘I found it easy to connect to the guy. I recognised the raw talent and determination and I think he has the opportunity to be somebody and it is exciting to be with someone like that.
‘It works both ways, they’ve got energy to give to the team and the ability to learn and be extremely happy doing it.
‘He’s a terribly nice lad and he’s got the possibility of being a great sailor.’
In a bid to make vital technological gains during a competition that takes him through some of the harshest environments on the planet, Thomson has teamed up with Nokia Bell Labs.
‘Technology moves at such a speed, there are so many more advancements we could make that we couldn’t 10 years ago,’ added Thomson.
‘There’s so much more possibilities for AI, understanding your limitations and where you are at.
‘Because I am in such an extreme environment there are learnings for the technology as well, and I really think it can make a huge difference to my sailing.
‘The obvious part is the autopilot, when I first started the autopilot is pretty basic, but still today a human can drive the boat 5 per cent faster than autopilot.
‘In an age when we have cars driving round autonomously, we should be able to have autopilot that drives a boat faster than a human can. I guess that’s the aim and something I want to achieve.’