ALEX Thomson is, in his own words, lucky to be alive.

He had been tipped for glory in the most prestigious yacht race in the world, the Vendée Globe, but three weeks before the start, his campaign was thrown into jeopardy when a French fishing boat smashed into his yacht, missing where Thomson lay by just a few centimetres.

Thomson, 34, from Gosport, was then dealt a further blow during the race, when he collided with an unknown object floating in the Bay of Biscay.

Taking on water quickly, he was left with no choice but to return to port – and retire from the race.

Click above to see Thomson's team battling to get Hugo Boss ready for the race start...

It was a huge blow for the young sailor, hugely respected in the sailing world and thought of as something of a maverick.

“I am lucky to be alive,” he said.

“Had the fishing boat hit half a metre back I would have been killed. Half a metre forward and the boat would have been irreparable. From then on it was a real rollercoaster.”

Like many of the world’s best solo sailors, Thomson has been working towards the Vendée Globe race for the past four years.

After a dramatic rescue by fellow Hampshire yachtsman Mike Golding in the Velux 5 Oceans race, Thomson bounced back to second place in the Barcelona World Race the following year, smashing his own 24-hour distance record.

... and click here to see the moment Thomson's campaign was brought to an end.

Thomson was tipped as one of the Vendée favourites, but disaster struck when his yacht was holed just hours after arriving at Les Sables D’Olonne.

Thomson’s yacht Hugo Boss II had been moored two miles from the marina entrance when the 60ft fishing boat smashed into the yacht’s starboard side at about 2.30am.

The mast was brought down in the collision, and the yacht was left with a large hole in its bow.

It was a crash that could have had much more serious consequences.

With three weeks to go until the race start, Thomson’s team worked nearly 24 hours a day in rolling shifts to get the yacht fixed.

The sailing world rallied behind the team and miraculously, with just days to go, Thomson confirmed that he would be starting.

“The team did an absolutely amazing job,” he said. “They nearly destroyed themselves trying to get the boat to the start line.

“I’m convinced that had it happened anywhere else in the world we wouldn’t have made it, but everyone in Les Sables was amazing and got behind us.

“We finally got there and then to have it all dragged away from us again was devastating.”

Three days into the race, Thomson’s worst nightmare was realised when he discovered water pouring into Hugo Boss’ hull from a crack in the port side.

Race rules stipulate that competitors can only return to the port they started from to make repairs, so immediately Thomson turned round and headed back, forced to bail out the water every three hours.

“Discovering the leak was terrible,” he said. “You know when you’ve got water coming into your boat that you’ve got a big problem on your hands.

“Those few days spent sailing back to Les Sables were absolutely horrific.

“I did a lot of my grieving during those days. We only realised the true extent of the damage when the boat was lifted out of the water – the whole team was absolutely gutted.”

Hugo Boss’ structural engineer was first on the scene, and it didn’t take long for him to give his diagnosis – the damage would take weeks to repair, and Thomson’s Vendée Globe was over.

Now back in the UK, Thomson has had time to reflect on the events of the past few weeks – and now has to watch his fellow competitors continue the race.

“To begin with, following the race was pretty tough, knowing I should be out there,” he said. “But it is quite quickly becoming normal to be back home again.

“There are a lot of positives to take from our campaign – for a start I am still alive to fight another day. The short-term goal is to get the boat back, get it fixed and allow the team to recuperate.

“A Vendée campaign is a very daunting thing to have to start again but it’s something I’m determined to do.”

ALEX Thomson has teamed up with SailSolent to bring you expert analysis of the Vendée Globe race. Starting next week, Alex will be giving his expert opinion on all the ups and downs of the race as they unfold.

Don’t miss Alex’s column each Thursday in SailSolent.