Sailing meets kiting: extreme sport in tough conditions.
Meeting on the high seas.
Kite surfers Anne Valvatne, Philipp Brückmann, Tom Schiffmann and Lennart Schulenburg arrive at Sylt’s western beach in the new Mercedes-Benz GLE Coupé. Now they prepare their kites and boards for the start. The four kiters and stand up paddler Kai Steimer, gauging the waves alongside them, are part of Team Makulo, a network of extreme sportsmen and women. They are here today to meet Alex Thomson, one of the best solo yachtsmen in the world.
They are meeting somewhere out there off the coast, where Alex Thomson’s IMOCA 60 is being battered by strong winds and heavy rain.
Already a legend.
Born in North Wales in 1974, Thomson is already something of a legend. In 1999, at the age of 25, he became the youngest skipper to win the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race. In 2003 he set a new world record for solo sailing, covering 468 nautical miles in 24 hours, a record he broke again in 2007. He finished third in the most recent Vendée Globe 2013, the world’s toughest single-handed yacht race. And he aims to win the next one in 2017. Mercedes-Benz will be sponsoring him in his attempt, as will Hugo Boss.
Slingshot through the waves.
Constructed from carbon fibre using a honeycomb structure, Alex Thomson’s yacht, which measures almost 20 metres in length, weighs around eight tonnes. It features 600 square metres of sail, which can slingshot the yacht to top speeds of around 35 knots.
An impressive yacht to which the professionals from Makulo now head: behind them the Mercedes-Benz GLE Coupé, ahead wind speeds of up to 20 knots and dense bands of rain, impairing visibility.
Playing with the elements.
It takes an hour for the kiters to reach Thomson. And now the games begin as they each demonstrate their skills over a two-kilometre course, playing with the wind, waves and water in the rough high seas. The kiters are faced with a monster sail, their 10-square-metre kites versus a sail surface equivalent to three tennis courts. Kiters and yachtsman become ever bolder, the distance between yacht and boards becomes smaller and smaller, and the kiters demonstrate some spectacular moves. Lennart Schulenburg attempts a “Blind Judge”, directly in front of the boat, passing the bar behind his back as he rotates.
With muscles and brains.
The evening is spent at Sylt’s cult “Sansibar” restaurant, a long-term Mercedes-Benz partner, discussing the events of the day. The sportsmen and women are delighted: about all the things they have in common – Thomson reveals that he kite surfs as a hobby – about the experience of meeting each other face to face, and about the trip on Thomson’s yacht, which particularly impressed Anne Valvatne.
“Bringing all the information together to ensure that you keep getting optimum performance from the boat – that’s not just physically challenging, it’s mentally challenging too.” And that takes a lot of training, as Thomson points out.
Pure joy of performance.
When he sets out in the Vendée Globe, he faces three months alone in the wet, cold and dark, sometimes going for days without sleep. Thomson starts preparing himself mentally for this months in advance “in order to stay calm, even in the most challenging circumstances”. Everything under control, whatever the conditions is also the perfect motto for today, a day spent with Thomson, the members of Team Makulo and the GLE Coupé, a true meeting of effortlessly superior sportiness and the pure joy of performance.
This, according to Thomson, is what drives him: “the will to achieve something” – even when faced with extreme challenges.