Round-the-world sailor Alex Thomson reveals shock of $5M boat capsizing

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Story highlights

  • A freak wave capsizes sailor's new boat
  • $5M vessel was upside down for 90 seconds
  • British sailor survived without a scratch
  • Still confident he can win 2016 Vendee Globe

(CNN)Not many people can just shrug off an ocean helicopter rescue, but when your mission is to win the world's most prestigious round-the-world sailing race, you have to be prepared for the worst.

"We suddenly got hit by a rogue wave and then within a flash the boat was upside down," says Alex Thomson, whose new $5 million boat capsized during its first outing, the Transat Jacques Vabre race from Le Havre in France to South America.
"We were upside down for about a minute and a half before the keel turned it back up the right way.
    "By that point, the boat was full of water and the mast was broken."
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    Thomson and Spanish co-skipper Guillermo Altadill had to be airlifted to safety in heavy seas off the coast of Spain.
    "When it fills with water you try not to panic, but it's difficult as when you're upside down there's no windows so you're totally blind," he says.
    "One of the doors was open, so water poured in. It was a bit of a shock to the system but then your survival mode just kicks in.
    "In the end, we had to be airlifted off but 18 to 20 hours later we were back there with a tug boat."
    Thomson's Hugo Boss monohull is his latest vessel as he seeks to become the first British sailor to win the Vendee Globe round-the-world race -- an event where he has suffered early retirements due to structural issues, but finished third in its last staging in 2012-13.
    He is hoping to learn from this latest lesson as he prepares for the 2016 Vendee Globe, starting next November.
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    "We had a problem with the boat, we think we hit something that damaged the front of the boat so we had to stop the boat to make a repair," he told CNN in a telephone interview while on holiday with his young family in Portugal.
    "We had to head to Spain to fix it so we could continue in the race. Then the weather got pretty bad -- for a little while 35 to 40 knots (about 65-75 kph) for a couple of hours. We decided to stop and wait until it moved away, to wait until the sea conditions were okay.
    "We weren't worried so I went to sleep. My co-skipper had just made a cup of coffee -- it's not the sort of thing you do in rough weather or if you're worried."
    As well as his sailing exploits, Thomas has won popularity for his eye-catching stunts -- such as a 30-meter mast walk while wearing a designer suit and sunglasses.
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    In typical style, he downplayed the capsizing -- in the middle of the old coffee trade route which the Transat follows -- by revealing he suffered a worse injury training in the gym afterwards.
    "I got a scratch from the boat but cut my legs pretty badly in the gym," explains Thomson, who cut his shins doing bunny hops on a raised platform. "It shows that everyday life can be just as dangerous."
    Thomson is now safely back on dry land and says his maritime misadventure was "not quite as dramatic as it sounds."
    And his sights are firmly set on victory in the Vendee Globe, a race in which his own fortunes befittingly match the motto on his website: "Sail, survive, succeed."
    "It's a dangerous game we're in," he says. "It's very relentless from start to end, and it's always like that. You can make good out of bad."