A year-long campaign to put the Royal Navy back at the forefront of international yacht racing begins in Australia tomorrow when a crew skippered by helicopter pilot Mickey Broughton contests the Melbourne to Hobart Race.
Broughton and his crew of seven, mainly from the Britannia Naval College at Dartmouth and including one female subbie, have chartered a 36-foot Swarbrick-designed yacht for a series of races which has already seen them notch up wins in two inshore series and a performance handicap series.
In the longer term they have their sights set on being part of a British three-boat team to contest the Southern Cross series in Sydney next December and their manager, Tony Higham, is confident they will be backed by a major sponsorship package early in the New Year.
Broughton is now conscious of the focus he has attracted as the only British entry in the race. "It's a bit frightening as we are probably the youngest team in the race and now we have been installed as favourites," he said.
France's Christophe Augin has a near 1,000-mile lead in the Vendee Globe singlehanded non-stop round the world race over the Canadian Gerry Roufs. He is also about 10 days ahead of the record schedule of 109 days set by Titouan Lamazou in 1989/90.
Britain's Pete Goss has moved into seventh place as Yves Parlier has arrived in Freemantle, Australia to replace a smashed rudder and so disqualify himself for receiving outside assistance. Goss has the only 50-foot boat in the race, all the rest are 60 feet, but as gear damage has taken its toll and reduced the fleet from 14 to 10 so he is able to hope for a top six place at the finish early in February at Les Sables d'Olonne.
All 14 BT Challenge yachts are still in the west with Mike Golding (Group 4) expected to complete the second, 6,600-mile leg from Rio de Janeiro to Wellington on Sunday. Forty miles astern is Andy Hindley (Save the Children) and a further 100 miles behind is Simon Walker (Toshiba). Conditions are becoming warmer as the fleet moves north. The dismasted Concert continues to motor sail under jury rig to the Chatham Islands.
The eight yachts in the Clipper 96 race start their fifth leg from the Galapagos Islands to Hawaii today.