Brian Thompson and the Juan K designed Pindar are a powerful combination, the tall Cowes based sailor who has logged tens of thousands of ocean miles at speeds most us can only imagine, sailing the only Open 60 in this Vendee Globe race to be designed by the Argentinian designer who has a reputation for pushing the limits.
For 46 year old Thompson, this Vendee Globe solo round the world race has always been on his 'wish list´. His professional sailing resumé stretches back 15 years and he holds or has held 25 world sailing records to date including twice taking the outright 24 hour world speed sailing record, with Playstation and then Maiden II.
He has built up his experience in the IMOCA 60 fleet over the last six years in a variety of different boats having co-skippered Skandia with Will Oxley in the 2005 Transat Jacques Vabre, sailing with Mike Golding´s Ecover in the 2003 Transat Jacques Vabre, and also sailing the previous Open 60, Artemis Ocean Racing.
Pindar´s build up to this race has been far from ideal. Their rig collapsed in August last year during a relatively benign 50 miles race round the Isle of Wight during Cowes Week last year, and then again on the delivery to Le Havre last year just before the Transat Jacques Vabre. But now with a new, simpler rig, Thompson has got to grips with a notably powerful boat which has yet to really be tested against the very best of the French fleet, and his lead in to the race has now taken shape well.
'What we have seen is that the boat is very fast, that is all good,' confirms the gentle giant, Thompson. 'And the boat has been very reliable in what we have done, and we have added a lot more Vendee Globe type systems, power generators, wind generators, solar panels and more protection for me in the cockpit. And the rig is now simple and reliable and we have added some extra systems for me, and so the boat feels fast and reliable.'
He considers the Juan K design's particular strength: 'Compared to the other boats the boat is very fast upwind, reaching I think we are the same or faster. We have more stability than the other boats, and then running if it is the equal of the other boats, then that will be good. What we haven´t done though, is enough racing. The Vendee is very much a downwind race, certainly to Cape Horn, perhaps a little beating in the Bay of Biscay, but then it will be downwind, maybe a little reaching, but then it will be downwind until after the Doldrums, and a short reach in the SE trade winds, and then downwind again.'
Thompson´s career has spanned everything from the 125 foot (38.1m) Playstation (Cheyenne) to sixth place in the 2001 MiniTransat.
'Even the old BOC race I have always wanted to do that, but this was never an obsession. I got on with doing lots of other things. It was always a goal and I always knew that I would like single-handed sailing.
'I remember the first edition (of the Vendee Globe race) with Titouan Lamazou going faster than the Whitbread boats between Cape Town and Australia. That really made an impression on me, that you could average faster than a fully crewed 80 foot boat in a 60 foot boat by himself.
'I like the simplicity of single-handed sailing. The rewards are greater when you get things right, and the peace really, sailing on your own, I really enjoy the tranquillity but of course it is more stressful. When you sleep you can´t switch off, so the stress levels are much higher.'
How does he feel his preparation ranks alongside what others have done?
'I don´t think I have done as much preparation as some of the other boats because of the problems we had, we were unable to do the Transat Jacques Vabre, the BtoB race and and so that would have been four transtatlantics I would have done by now and that would have been great for working on the sail crossovers. I have done the two Transats, so about 6,000 solo miles, so that is good but I recognise that I would be better if I done the races.
'I think I have done enough other things. The records and things I have done on my own, I think you get a good feel for how hard to push the boat. But we have only done the racing we have done against the other boats has been Round the Island, but all the experience I have sailing round the world with Cheyenne and on the Doha race is always at a good pace. After all when you are out there you are thinking of it as a record attempt.'
His assessment of how the race may develop.
'I think that from the start there will be 15 boats in the hunt down to the Equator, 10 boats at Cape Town and five boats fighting for the lead at Cape Horn to the finish at Les Sables d´Olonne. That is my guess. It´ll be like a cycling race now, with a 'peloton' with the field shrinking at the end. There are 20 new boats but some things will go wrong and some will go the wrong way.'
Seven British skippers are entered.
'Seven British boats is the best ever and in Mike Golding we have someone who has raced Open 60´s before and I guess in myself I have done round the worlds before in bigger boats and I feel comfortable with the course, and I have been racing on the IMOCA Circuit for a while now.'
His physical training has not been a major part of his preparation largely due to lack of time, but he does keep himself sailing fit.
'I have done some training. I´d always like to do more, but generally keeping fit and healthy is important to me. You don´t want to be losing energy in the race. I have done some time in the gym. I will do quite a lot leading up to the race though.
'I don´t have anything particular I will take. Maybe some cheese, but I am not that bothered. Food-wise I can exist on the bare minimum and if you are doing well in the race you just get on with it.
'It is the whole challenge is what appeals to me, really. The navigation, sailing the boat at the right speed in the conditions.'
With two very young children at home on the Isle of Wight, how does he feel about the separation and how important is it to achieve something his kids will be proud of?
'That´ll be the toughest part, but it will be tougher for Natalie and the kids at home, but I have to 100% absorbed in what I do. It is a long time to be away, but there are people in Afghanistan and Iraq away for longer. I am not terribly sentimental, like we don´t have a house full of memorabilia. But I hope they (his kids) won´t look back and say 'why weren´t you there for Christmas 2008!´
'But I am pretty confident now. We had no major servicing to do after the Qualifying which is as well because we had no time to rectify any problems,' concludes Thompson. http://www.vendeeglobe.org/en