Thomson readies trans-Atlantic take-off in Vendee quest

FILE PHOTO: British round-the-world sailor Alex Thomson puts his yacht Hugo Boss through its paces, reaching speeds of nearly 30 knots, in the Solent, off the south coast of England, Britain August 9, 2018. Picture taken August 9, 2018. REUTERS/Alexander Smith

LONDON (Reuters) - Looking more like a Star Wars fighter than a yacht, a new IMOCA 60 will be tested this week by Alex Thomson as he hopes to become the first British sailor to win the Vendee Globe in 2020.

Thomson, who was second in the 2016 edition of the gruelling single-handed round-the-world race, is among 59 teams due to start the 4,350 mile Transat Jacques Vabre on Sunday.

The double-handed race from Le Havre in France to Salvador in Brazil will be the first competitive outing for Thomson's futuristic black boat, named "Hugo Boss" after his sponsor and given its distinctive looks by industrial designer Karim Rashid.

While he expects the new boat to be 20% to 30% faster than his previous "toy", the British sailor is seeking reliability after his hopes of winning the last Vendee were dashed by a breakage to one of the "foils" on his boat.

"The maximum speed of the last one was 38-1/2 (knots), so this one will probably go faster, but to be honest we don't want high top end speeds, we want high averages," Thomson said last month aboard Hugo Boss while moored on London's River Thames.

"I really hope I don't do 38.5 knots in this boat because its not pleasant and its quite dangerous, the most likely time when you are going to break something. So we are looking for high averages in less wind. So in theory, less wind, more power, more reliable," the 45-year-old told Reuters.

Among the features his team have included in the 6 million pound ($7.7 million) racing machine are solar panels to replace diesel for power, a pink fully-enclosed cockpit to keep Thomson as dry and warm as possible and very large hydrofoils, which "literally pick the boat out of the water and fly".

"Its very exciting, but it sometimes feels like you are in a rally car passenger ... bouncing up and down," a grinning Thomson said as he showed off the newly-christened craft.

Unlike the Vendee, when he will sail alone and unsupported, Thomson is teaming up for the TJV with Neal McDonald, a Volvo Ocean Race veteran and former Olympic sailor who is also performance manager for Thomson's team.

Thomson's last tilt at the so-called Route du Café, named after the historic coffee trading routes it follows, ended when his boat overturned and he and his co-skipper had to be rescued.

($1 = 0.7791 pounds)

(Reporting by Alexander Smith; Editing by Pritha Sarkar)

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