In nautical evolutionary terms, the modern racing yacht is the fittest and fastest. Competition creates a ruthless efficiency in boatbuilding, and the world’s oceans become testing grounds for advanced materials and new design. Most importantly, the sea is the toughest arena on the planet, and technology has to work seamlessly in what is the ultimate test of endurance.
Hugo Boss has supported ocean racing since 2003, when the German fashion brand became the sponsor of Alex Thomson Racing. British sailor Thomson, having won his first round-the-world race in 1999 (at 25, he was the youngest skipper ever to win such a competition), currently holds a clutch of distance records. He has competed in the gruelling Vendée Globe solo round-the-world race since 2004, coming in third in the 2012 event. The next Vendée Globe sets sail on 6 November 2016 and the 41-year-old skipper’s ambitions now rest on a remarkable new yacht that’s been hand-built on the south coast of the UK.
Informed and shaped by Thomson’s own extensive experience, and styled, inside and out, by long-standing Hugo Boss collaborator Konstantin Grcic, the yacht was built at Green Marine in Hythe, Hampshire, to specifications set out by IMOCA, in a process overseen at every stage by Thomson.
The Vendée Globe was founded in 1989 as the only non-stop, round-the-world race for the solo sailor. Typically, competitors spend between three and four months at sea, entirely alone and unable to set foot on dry land (otherwise they’re disqualified). The technical and physical challenge is immense.
While Grcic is creating the identity and branding that’ll announce Hugo Boss to the world, he’s also playing a critical product design role inside the hollow superstructure, where ballast, stores and equipment are squeezed in with Thomson’s ultra-compact living space. Making this space work well could essentially decide the outcome of the race.
Thomson has worked closely with Grcic to make this space as efficient as possible, building a wooden mock-up to explore every option. ‘Konstantin comes from a different area [of expertise] and has a different perspective,’ says Thomson, ‘but the boat has to be light. There’s no sink, no toilet, no conventional bunk. You have to prioritise what’s important,’ he says, likening the tiny cabin to like being inside a bass bin, with constant, ear-shattering noise and movement.
‘There’s no room for experimentation,’ says Grcic. ‘If something fails he has to be able to repair it while he’s racing.’
The boat’s livery is dominated by a big, bold Hugo Boss logo, as one might expect. ‘It’s strong and simple and fits well on a raceboat,’ says Grcic. The hull itself is black, an unconventional decision only realised with the use of a specialist dual-layer paint, originally intended for automotive applications, with an embedded reflective layer beneath a black surface to keep temperatures down.
This will be Thompson’s fourth attempt at the Vendée Globe. ‘As a sailor you want to go south, the Roaring Forties and Furious Fifties, where the waves are big and well spaced. It’s exhilarating and scary,’ says Thomson. ‘The Indian and Pacific Oceans are tough. You’re really isolated, thousands of miles from help. Your fierce competitor is also your best rescue squad. So there’s a strange bond you don’t see in other sports.’
Thomson is a breed apart, and he knows it. Fewer than 100 people have ever completed a solo round-the-world race. For Hugo Boss, the boat, the team and the race are a major marketing expense that is not without risk. ‘I’ve been allowed to build an extreme machine that’s just for me – it’s very ostentatious really. Its 20,000 individual pieces have all been handcrafted,’ Thomson says. ‘It’s an amalgamation of all the good things I’ve seen on boats in the last 12 years.’
Grcic’s livery will ensure the Hugo Boss IMOCA 60 cuts an impressive figure as it slices its way around the world; its low hull, 30m mast and 650 sq m of sails all create an impressive sight at speed. Few pieces of industrial design are so singularly focused as the racing yacht, and the stakes could not be higher. If all goes well though, Thomson, Grcic and Green Marine will have come together to create a boat that rules the waves.
For the unabridged version turn to page 122 of the September 2015 edition of Wallpaper* (W*198)