MacArthur and Golding lead British challenge

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The Independent Online

Another determined Brit-ish assault on French yachting supremacy begins off St Malo today. They have the numbers but winning will not be easy.

Seven yachts set off on the five-leg EDS Atlantic Challenge, four of them British-based. The two from France, Roland Jourdain's Sill and Loic Pochet's La Rage de Vivre are joined by Giovanni Soldini's Fila from Italy, skippered by Andrea Scarabelli.

This debut event aims to build a racing programme for the Open 60s. It originated in Britain, dreamed up by Chay Blyth, whose amateur adventurers have just completed the BT Global Challenge. This race is for the professionals and the yachts will carry four or five crew instead of their usual mode of being set up for long-distance single-handers.

Leading the British quartet are Ellen MacArthur in Kingfisher and Mike Golding in the re-named Ecover. Both have mixed crews – Golding takes Miranda Merron and Alex Sizer – and both have had the benefit of shore crews to work on their boats. They also have the budgets to buy new equipment.

Both have replaced all the steel rigging with lighter, man-made fibre and have new sets of sails. Nick Moloney, who co-skippers Kingfisher for MacArthur and will do all five legs while she peels off for the final two, points also to an attempt to increase power and further cut weight.

"We have beefed up the winches and worked on the sails, but we have not gone to any extremes," he said. "The boat was so well-balanced anyway it could have been detrimental.''

Josh Hall, on Gartmore, and Helena Darvelid, on the chartered Alphagraphics, will all have to share space they would normally have to themselves and are aware of the threat from Jourdain, whose boat is probably the fastest of the seven. They are renewing rivalries of last winter in the Vendée Globe single-handed round the world race.

This time there are stops, the first promising an early tactical minefield of light airs before a big blow to take them to Hamburg. Next comes Portsmouth, where they should arrive in the middle of next week, before setting off across the Atlantic to Baltimore. A third short leg takes them to Boston and it is from there they make their second Atlantic crossing back to St Malo.

Facing the toughest battle is Darvelid, who put her all-woman crew together only four weeks ago and has been in a race ever since just to make the start line.

"It's been fraught, but we are here and we are ready,'' she said. "You just have to push yourself a little.''

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