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Alex Thomson: The Mast Walk

Alex Thomson has long established himself as one of the daredevils in the world of sailing. The British yachtsman performs an amazingly daring feat on board his high-speed yacht: He climbs up the 30-meter mast of the moving vessel and dives into the ocean from the very top.

How long have you been planning this stunt for? Ever since I did the keel walk in 2012 I have been planning my next stunt. The keel walk footage has been watched by millions of people all over the world. Ever since then people have asked me ‘what’s next?’ and so I knew we had to follow up with something even bigger.

Why did you choose the mast walk? The idea of a mast walk is something that the team and I have been looking into for a long time but it was something that none of us were sure was possible. It took a lot of time to plan and prepare for; there were so many things that we had to think about and so many elements that had to come together to make it work. In the end, though, we were able to achieve what we wanted.

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How did you prepare? I took diving lessons in a pool from a 10m board. This was really just a starting point to see whether I could actually dive from that sort of height. I knew that, if we were able to go ahead with the mast walk, the diving experience would be very different from anything I had practiced beforehand. I wouldn’t be in a closed, controlled environment but I would be on a boat moving at high speed, out on the water, in the open…. and I’d be jumping from a much greater height. So, while practicing on a diving board was a good starting point, the real thing was a million miles away from that! Aside from the dive itself, I had to spend a lot of time with my team and stunt coordinator planning for every possible outcome. If anything were to go wrong, we had to find a safe way out of it. We had to take into account everything from wind speed, weather conditions, the speed of the boat, the angle and height of the mast and our ability to communicate during the stunt.

How many practice runs did it take? Before the mast walk I’d actually only managed it about three quarters of the way along the mast. Once was more than enough I can tell you!

What were the dangers involved? A huge amount of time was spent preparing for the challenge but of course you can never fully predict the conditions on the day or the responses of the boat. I suppose the main thing that could have gone wrong was that high-speed yacht could have broached and I could have slipped from the mast. In one of the practice runs I did lose my grip but fortunately I was able to hang on and avoid falling down to hit the deck!

What if something had gone wrong? At all times we had a paramedic on standby in a safety rib, cruising close to the high-speed yacht. There was also a diver onboard the safety rib ready to dive into the water in case I hit the surface in the wrong angle or I failed to come up out of the water after the dive. Other than this I was close enough to the team below on the deck to be able to communicate with them all the time. This meant that if we were to hit strong winds or if they anticipated that the boat was to move unexpectedly, they could shout to me and let me know that I should hold on for dear life! In the same way, if there was ever a time where I felt concerned or unsure, I could quickly let the team know that something wasn’t quite right and that the challenge needed to be called to a halt.

How did you feel when you finished the challenge? Relieved it was over! I can honestly say it was the stupidest thing I have ever done!

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