SEATTLE — For Alex Thomson, the directions to circumnavigate the world are simple.
“You come out the start in France, you hang a left at the bottom, left to Africa, around Antarctica, left at America and back to France again,” Thomson said.
If only the act itself was that easy. More than 3,000 people have climbed Mount Everest. And yet, still there’s fewer than 100 people who have single-handedly sailed nonstop around the world. Thomson accomplished the feat last year, but he’d failed three times before.
“Statistically, 50 percent of the people who start these races won’t finish. Mainly technical problems,” Thomson said.
On this day, he has some help from a crew. But the real challenge is doing this alone for close to three straight months. The 10-ton Hugo Boss yacht is quite the sight – and it should, costing $4 million. But for that price, you’d think they’d have some simple amenities.
“There’s no toilet. There’s no sink. There’s no proper beds. It’s a pretty uncomfortable ride,” Thomson said.
“We use a bucket.”
His sleep schedule?
“If you’re sleeping, you’re not going fast.”
And yet, the 39-year-old Thomson loves the risk – he loves the thrill.
“It’s about human endeavor. It’s about adventure. It’s about man versus the elements,” Thomson said.
In his off-time, it’s about YouTube hits, too, as demonstrated by his walk on the yacht’s keel – a video that’s garnered more than 2 million views.
Does he ever feel like there’s not enough publicity for sailing in general?
“I think one of the challenges for sailing is, it’s very technical. You got ‘port’ and ‘starboard’ and ‘bow’ and ‘stern’ and lots of people don’t understand it,” he said.
What he does understand is survival. He’s a modern-day Columbus — but with a satellite phone and email, and a monitor to guide his travels in one of the yacht’s two tiny pods.
“Eight times a day I sit down in front of the computer and I work out the quickest route. Then I work it out as if the weather is early, the weather is late, the wind is left, the wind is right, the wind it up, the wind is down, I look at hundreds of different variables.”
With a wife and 4-year-old son, who knows how much longer Thomson will continue to race? Who knows what stunt he’ll try next?
But awareness of his sport will always be top priority. At least, until that ship has sailed.