Magazine article The New Yorker

Solo

Magazine article The New Yorker

Solo

Article excerpt

The Olympic sailing events that recently took place south of London were not of particular interest to Alex Thomson, a British sailor who lives nearby. "Too many fishing boats," he says, of sailing close to land. Thomson is one of the world's best solo open-ocean sailors. His sport is not an Olympic one, in part because it would be impossible to stage within a host country's waters. His races--cross-Atlantic, cross-Pacific, around the world--require that Thomson spend six months a year at sea, much of it alone. To stay on course, he sleeps twenty to forty minutes at a time, every three or four hours. Whenever the sea gets rough, which happens often, and he starts to get lonely, which happens often, too, he closes his eyes, pinches the bridge of his nose, and channels happy thoughts. He knows that things are going to be O.K. when goose bumps cover his arms.

Thomson was in New York recently, resting between transatlantic training runs, and had docked his sixty-foot racing yacht next to the World Financial Center. He had left his wife and young son in England, as he frequently does, and was relieved to have company. "Being a sailor, I find that most people think that you grow a big beard and smoke a pipe and spend your whole day outside all wet," he said. "The reality is, I spend twelve hours a day in front of a computer." Thomson, who is thirty-eight, clean-shaven, and pipeless, was giving a tour of his boat. He pointed out a computer screen on which he maps his route, a blue plastic bucket--his toilet--and a water boiler. "There's the kitchen," he said, noting that he eats freeze-dried pasta made for the Norwegian Navy. "They have one called Game Casserole. The predominant ingredient is reindeer. I find it a bit rich, to be honest."

There were plenty of ferries, tugs, and water taxis, but no fishing boats, as Thomson pushed off and sailed toward the Statue of Liberty. He had agreed to circle the harbor with guests of his official sponsor, Hugo Boss, which had outfitted him with a wristwatch the size of a ship's steering wheel. When the boat approached Staten Island, the wind died, so Thomson reversed course, toward lower Manhattan. "Big gust coming in four, three, two, one," he said. On cue, the wind picked up. "It might feel like the boat's leaning over a lot, but it won't lean more than thirty degrees," he told his guests. …

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