Youngest ever winning Clipper Race skipper Alex Thomson starts Barcelona World Race today

31 December 2014

Today, Gosport sailor and former Clipper Race skipper Alex Thomson sets off alongside Spaniard Pepe Ribes in the Barcelona World Race, the only double-handed, non-stop, round the world race.

Alex is still the youngest ever skipper to win the Clipper Race at the age of 25 in the 1998-99 edition. He tells us about how an expedition to Greenland with Clipper Race Chairman and founder Sir Robin Knox-Johnston led to the progression of his goals and to his position as one of Britain’s best-known sailors.

"My earliest memory of ambition is wanting to be a search and rescue pilot like my dad. My ambition today aged 40 is to win the Vendee Globe, the single handed non-stop around the world race, and to me the most gruelling sporting challenge that exists. The transition of goals is a natural progression of growing up and exploring possibilities in life.

"It wasn’t until Sir Robin Knox-Johnston gave me the opportunity to sail a boat around the world in the Clipper Race, which my team and I won, that I even realized the path of professional sailing was an option to me.

"I stumbled at the first hurdle of my original ambition, when I discovered my eyesight wasn’t good enough to become a search and rescue pilot. It was a situation that, at the time, no amount of determination could remedy. However, I had found a new passion in windsurfing and have never lived more than three miles from the sea.

"I met Sir Robin Knox-Johnston in 1997 when I was working for the Clipper Race as a bosun. He asked me if I would like to be his first mate on an expedition to Greenland. I said I would love to, but wanted to stay in the UK and train the crew for the Clipper 1998-99 Race in which I wanted to be a skipper.

"I was 23 at the time and I asked Sir Robin straight if he thought I was too young to be a skipper. He said he did not know, but if I came to Greenland with him he would tell me.

"I went and it was the best adventure I have ever and am ever likely to have. Sailing with one of – if not the world’s best seaman – was an amazing experience and with Sir Robin as my mentor, I could hardly fail. That being said, it was a big risk for Sir Robin giving me a job because any screw up on my part would have been directed at him for giving a young man such responsibilities.

"In the Clipper 1998-99 Race, I skippered the boat Ariel at the age of 25 and won. It is a record I still hold as the youngest skipper to win a round the world race.

"For many, the Clipper Race is a life-changing event, and I was no exception. It was the first moment I began to think that I was perhaps good at sailing, and the first time I had thought there could be a possibility I could turn it into my career.

"Essentially the rest is now history – but a history that is still being written. I am now into my tenth year of sponsorship with Hugo Boss, which is one of the most long-standing and successful sponsorships in sailing.

"I finished third in the Vendee Globe in 2013, smashing the British record for the event and sailing my boat competitively against newer generation boats. I am more determined than ever to be on that starting line in 2016 and stand on the top of the podium at the end. That is my ambition now."

We wish Alex and Pepe the best of luck in the Barcelona World Race.


The Clipper Race is always recruiting for race skippers.

Leading a team through the world’s most hostile environments including storms, cyclones, icebergs, injuries, extreme heat and cold, and even the threat of piracy, is all in a day’s work for the outstanding men and women who lead their teams in the world’s longest ocean race.

The professional yachtsmen that ultimately make it through the selection process must be able to withstand huge physical and mental challenges to successfully guide their amateur teams through Mother Nature’s toughest environments, while managing emotions, motivating crew, conflict resolution and a wide range of competitiveness and skills.

The Clipper 2015-16 Race skipper recruitment programme is open for applications now. To apply or find out more, click here

To view a short video from our skipper trial media day please click here

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