Bunhill: Sailors show nerves of steel

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The Independent Online
THE PERFECT romantic holiday: eight months sailing into the sunset. Well, almost: the conditions - cold, wet and dangerous; sharing crowded quarters with 13 strangers and a shower once a month. The cost? pounds 15,000. Oh, and you may as well forget your partner - you'll see each other once every two months, if you're lucky.

This is what faces the competitors in the British Steel Challenge, an around-the-world (the wrong way) yacht race that starts on 26 September.

The race will take 130 volunteers, in 10 identical 67ft steel yachts, round the globe from Southampton via Rio de Janeiro and Hobart, Tasmania, to celebrate Chay Blyth's solo voyage 21 years ago. British Steel has sponsored the race, as it did Blyth in 1971.

Blyth himself has been instrumental in securing individual sponsorship for the boats and has hand-picked the volunteers, for their determination rather than sailing ability.

Coopers & Lybrand, the accountancy firm, is sponsoring a boat and may be losing two employees in the process. One couple in the race, Sue Tight and Paul Titchener, met at Coopers, but it is possible neither will return there.

Sue, a management consultant, has already resigned; Paul, a chartered accountant turned management consultant, plans to telephone his boss from Cape Town, the last port of call, to tell him whether or not he's on his way back to work. The lure of foreign parts may prove too strong.

The two have opted to sail on separate boats, both for their own sanity and that of their team mates, among whom very close bonds have been formed. Other couples have emerged since training began, but their identities are being jealously guarded.

On board there will be plenty of chocolate, to Sue's delight, but very little alcohol. However, there will be some champagne to celebrate key psychological and physical milestones, such as Cape Horn, Paul's 30th birthday, and Christmas. Sue thinks they may get to see each other on the three stopovers, 'if Paul's boat gets there in time, and depending how much fun I'm having'.

(Photograph omitted)