British sailor Alex Thomson it was a failure to charge his electric-shock wrist alarm that caused him to oversleep and run his boat ashore on the northern tip of Guadeloupe during the final 24 hours of the Route du Rhum singlehanded transatlantic race from Saint Malo, France.
Thomson used his engine to extract his boat from the rocks at the base of steep cliffs and for that was handed a twenty-four-hour penalty by the international jury. He got the news when he docked in Guadeloupe.
“As soon as I made the race committee aware that I had used my engine I was then protested by the race committee or the jury – I don’t know which,” Thomson explained at a press conference in Guadeloupe. “I supply them with the facts of what happened and they then look at the rules and the penalties and decide what happens.
“They told me: ‘Alex -we can’t really have you winning the race as you have used your engine’.”
“I didn’t expect that – I was expecting less than that,” Thomson confessed. “But on the other hand what I did was unforgivable. As far as I am concerned I have disqualified myself.”
Thomson uses two alarms to wake him up while racing offshore: one is an audio device; and the other one an electric-shock wristband.
“It’s hard to manage your sleep in these races,” Thomson said. “It’s a key part of it – you accept that you are going to be tired and you have to manage it. If you ask my wife she would tell you that I can sleep anywhere. So to combat that I have this electric-shock wrist band.
“Normally I wake up with the audio alarm. I set the audio alarm for 20 minutes and the wrist alarm for 25 minutes. There were two days [previously] in this race where this [the wrist alarm] was waking me up.”
The previous night after 11 days in the lead of the race since leaving France Thomson decided to get some rest as he approached the island of Guadeloupe so that he could be fully alert for the final section along the coast to the finish.
“I was two and a half hours from Guadeloupe and I thought it will be a long journey around Guadeloupe so I should get some rest,” Thomson said. “I thought to myself: is this a good idea Alex? But I told myself that I have the electric-shock wrist band so it shouldn’t be a problem.
“So I put it on but I don’t think it was charged.
“So I overslept the alarm and when I woke up I was grounded on the rocks. Which I have to say is a shocking experience. Never to be repeated.”
Despite the disappointing end to the race Thomson was magnanimous and full of praise for his nearest rival French skipper Paul Meilhat on SMA who is now expected to claim victory if he finishes before 08:10:58 local time in Guadeloupe tomorrow.
[UPDATE: Both Paul Meilhat on SMA and Yann Elies on UCAR – Saint Michel have finished within the time limit to claim first and second place].
“It’s a bitter pill to swallow but I have nobody to blame but myself, Thomson said. “We did a great performance in [most of] this race and I can pat myself on the back and say good job Alex.
“But we should look a Paul Meilhat who has an old boat with straight foils and he has done an amazing job. I look forward to congratulating him tomorrow and I hope he arrives in first place.”
Thomson also said there were plenty of positives to take from the race and build on with his new boat which is currently under construction for the next Vendee Globe around the world race.
“There are lots of positives from this race,” he said. “Good speed , some good tactics, some good navigation, and I manged to get some media off the boat as well. We learned a lot technically – there’s stuff we can do better still.
“We will take this opportunity to be stronger, to be better and to learn more.”
Despite his upbeat and pragmatic approach to this setback, Thomson will have to deal with the fact that yet another opportunity to win a major ocean racing trophy has once again passed him by.
When a French journalist pointed out that without the grounding he would finally have “beaten the French” in a major race Thomson had slightly gritted teeth and a fixed smile as he gave his response:
“One day it will happen.”