British sailor Thomson aims to end French Vendee reign


FILE PHOTO: British sailor Alex Thomson poses next to his IMOCA 60 yacht "Hugo Boss" moored in London, Britain, September 19, 2019. REUTERS/Alexander Smith/File Photo

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain's Alex Thomson is confident he has done everything possible in his quest to become the first non-French winner of the single-handed Vendee Globe round-the-world sailing race.

Although the COVID-19 pandemic has meant Thomson has not been able to sail as many miles aboard HUGO BOSS as he would have liked, he has found other ways to ensure his yacht is prepared for the worst the oceans can throw at it.

This has included fitting fibre optics into the futuristic black and pink hull of his 60-foot, hydro-foiled IMOCA, which can hit around 40 knots as it skims over the waves.

"We fitted alarms, so that when the structure gets close to its limit, I know about it," Thomson told Reuters this week by telephone from Les Sables D'Olonne in France, from where the 24,000 nautical mile non-stop race starts on Sunday.

This time 33 skippers, including six women, are taking on what some call the Everest of the seas, and the race organisers said on Saturday that all had been given a clean bill of health for the start after passing COVID-19 tests.

It is not just the boat which is wired for Thomson's fifth attempt at winning the Vendee. The Briton, who was runner-up to Frenchman Armel Le Cleac'h in 2016-2017, is also being constantly monitored to keep tabs on data such as the calories he burns, his heart rate and his sleeping patterns.

"When you become sleep-deprived it's very hard to remember when you last slept... I have an armband which has an accelerometer in it, and together with the accelerometer in the boat and some fancy maths they can work out when I am asleep or not," he said, adding that this will be available to see online.

Thomson, 46, has also worked with a sports psychologist, including undergoing hypnosis, to help him relax in order to get to sleep quickly for "cat naps" and to wake up rapidly so that he can spring into action on deck when needed.

When Thomson is not steering, he will rely on a state-of-the-art autopilot which Nokia Bell Labs has fitted with a "black box" that features machine learning and models to "predict the future" on variables such as how far the boat will heel.

"The whole thing is about bringing the man and the machine in perfect harmony," Thomson said before his departure.

(Reporting by Alexander Smith; Editing by Ken Ferris)

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