The British skipper of Hugo Boss has managed to maintain a lead of 100 miles over his nearest rivals, Armel Le Cléac'h and Sébastien Josse in spite of damage to his foil.

In the middle of the South Atlantic, the seven leaders of the Vendée Globe non-stop, solo, round-the-world race are still clocking up high speeds in ‘surfing’ conditions.

The broken starboard foil on Hugo Boss does not appear to be too much of a handicap for British skipper Alex Thomson. While yesterday he gave up between 30 and 50 miles to those chasing him, the gap has stabilised now at around 100 miles.

Thomson and his two nearest rivals, Armel Le Cléac’h and Sébastien Josse are expected to pass the Cape of Good Hope in four days, shattering the reference time for the voyage down the North and South Atlantic.

On Saturday, 19 November, Thomson was forced to slow his 60ft foiling yacht after hitting a submerged object. One of the boat’s two foils, which help lift it out of the water to give it more speed, was damaged in the collision with the unidentified object floating beneath the surface.

Thomson was sailing at 24 knots in 22 knots of wind at the head of the fleet, a position he has occupied for a week, at 0935 UTC when he heard a bang and his boat Hugo Boss changed direction. Thomson, who had been down below trying to sleep at the time, went up on deck and turned the boat downwind so he could inspect it. He found the starboard foil to be damaged and also noticed scrapes down the starboard side of the hull.

Until the collision Thomson had been on course to set a new 24-hour solo distance world record, and in the 24 hours prior to the 1100 UTC position update had notched up 531 miles.

Alex Thomson at start of the Vendee Globe, in Les Sables d'Olonne, France. Credit: Jean-Marie Liot/DPPI/Vendee Globe

Alex Thomson at start of the Vendee Globe, in Les Sables d’Olonne, France

Thomson retracted the damaged foil and slowed his boat. He said there does not appear to be any structural damage.

Speaking on Saturday evening, he said: ‘Having had a pretty quick night where the boat was sailing high averages and the boat was super uncomfortable I had retracted the foil 30 per cent early this morning and was sailing the boat pretty conservatively in a building breeze.

‘At 09.35 UTC this morning I was down below trying to sleep and the boat was sailing in 22kts of wind with a J2 and one reef in the main. I was averaging 24kts of boat speed when I heard an almighty bang and the boat stopped and turned to starboard by about 20 degrees. I quickly went on deck, eased the main sheet and realised I must have hit something. I eased the boat down wind and went to take a look and the starboard foil has been damaged and there are some scrapes on the starboard side of the boat.

‘Right now I have taken the foot completely off the throttle and changed sails and retracted the foil and will sail on in these conditions until the wind and sea state moderate and I can inspect the damage and assess. I didn’t see anything in the water but it felt like the boat wrapped itself around something and it has caused some pretty significant damage to my foil. I was instructed to carry out an internal inspection of the boat and there does not appear to be any structural damage to the hull that I can see. For now I am going to continue and assess when I get the chance.’

The Vendée Globe, known as ‘the Everest of sailing,’ takes place every four years, and has historically been dominated by the French.

A screen grab of the Vendee Globe race tracking

A screen grab of the Vendee Globe race tracking

This year’s edition sees 29 IMOCA 60s in the race. Just 71 of the 138 starters since the race’s inception, back in 1989, have successfully completed the race, and three have lost their lives along the way.

Thomson is determined to be the first British skipper to win the Vendée Globe. The race, which started on 6 November 2016 from Les Sables d’Olonne, France, could take up to 80 days.

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