Alex Thomson and his co-skipper, Spanish sailor Guillermo Altadill, were airlifted off the 60ft yacht Hugo Boss yesterday afternoon some 82 miles off the north coast of Spain. They had set off their emergency EPIRB when what was described as “a rogue wave” capsized the yacht and inverted her, flooding Hugo Boss, dismasting her and leaving her disabled.
A helicopter crew from the Salvamento Maritimo, the Spanish Coastguard, came to the aid of the pair, who were taking part in the Transat Jacques Vabre race from Le Havre to Itajai in Brazil.
In storm force conditions, the new IMOCA 60 yacht had suffered unspecified damage. While Thomson and Altadill had made initial repairs, they were heading for La Coruña in Spain, where their technical team was to meet them and assess the damage.
At the time of the capsize, they were hove to and making slow progress in 30 knots of wind and big seas. They were nursing their boat and waiting for the weather to subside before making quicker progress for La Coruña.
But yesterday, Hugo Boss was overturned by a wave.
Thomson’s shore team reports: ‘Alex and Guillermo managed to close the hatches and secure the situation whilst inverted. Alex immediately hit the [canting] keel button, bringing the [boat] back upright. They then alerted the rescue services and technical team of an emergency situation.
‘The yacht had taken on a substantial amount of water and the rig had sustained damage requiring the skippers to leave the yacht.’
This latest generation of round the world yachts is said to cost around €10 million apiece and are shaped by new class rules stipulating one-design rigs and keels aimed at improving these boats’ worrying safety record.
Alex Thomson is already questioning how the capsize could have happened. Such conditions are far from uncommon in the Southern Ocean, the environment for which the IMOCA 60 is ultimately designed.
“It was an incredibly unusual event and we need to understand why it happened,” he commented.
“It was a rogue wave, but we should not have inverted the way we did. I am now going to go with the technical team to ensure a successful recovery of the new racing yacht.”
Thomson has an unfortunate record of structural failures and resultant rescues from his various versions of Hugo Boss. But remember, this is also characteristic of the history of this class, which is developmental by nature and follows deep ocean courses that are extreme in their severity.
Thomson has also had time to accumulate these blows as he is now, after 11 years, one of the ‘class elders’. (The bad luck tag used to be attached to Mike Golding for much the same reason.)
In his first Vendée Globe 11 years ago, a deck structural failure forced Thomson to retire. Four years later, hull structural failure of a subsequent yacht forced early retirement.
While racing, Thomson has been dismasted, forced out by rudder damage and was most famously rescued by Mike Golding after a keel failure in the 2006 Velux 5 Oceans Race. But he has also had great successes, most notably finishing 3rd in the Vendée Globe in 2013.
And he is by no means alone in his misfortune in this race, which will go down as one of the most attritional. Numerous other yachts in the Transat Jacques Vabre fleet have retired, been damaged, dismasted or have capsized.
Yesterday afternoon the IMOCA 60 Spirit of Hungary was also dismasted 65 miles north of Madeira. Co-skippers Nandor Fa and Peter Perényi said they were making their way under engine to Madeira.
The photos below taken by the Spanish helicopter crew show the stricken Hugo Boss, and Thomson being winched to safety.
Thomson is going back out with his team to try to salvage the yacht, which was built in preparation for his attempt at the solo Vendée Globe race next year.