Rowing: MacArthur off to flying start

Ellen MacArthur hit the start line at a nerve-jangling speed of 27 knots and, before most of Britain was facing up to breakfast yesterday, she was tucking into her attempt to break the record for sailing solo round the world.

Observers from the World Speed Sailing Record Council on the craggy north-west coast of France at Ushant hit the button at 08hr 10min 44sec GMT as the 75-foot B&Q, with its sails throttled back but all three hulls surging forward, attacked the target of 72 days 22hr 54min 22sec set by Francis Joyon, of France, in February this year.

MacArthur reported she had slept only 10 minutes after leaving Falmouth for her overnight vigil waiting for the favourable north-westerly wind to develop. "I am feeling sick with nerves," she said.

She needs to complete what could be 27,000 miles of non-stop racing against the clock by 9 February next year and was making fast progress during the first few hours.

More than 6,000 miles south of MacArthur on their singlehanded way round the world in the race which catapulted her to fame, the Vendée Globe, the breakaway leaders Vincent Riou and Jean le Cam were still within 10 miles of each other. But even the top six are now well strung out, with Roland Jourdain 365 miles astern in third back to Alex Thomson, 830 behind in sixth - and he is 100 miles ahead of a fast-improving Nick Moloney in seventh.

The top four have now all turned left at the bottom of the Atlantic with both Thomson and the man ahead of him, Mike Golding, also soaking south and east into the roaring forties and the conveyor belt of wild winds and huge rolling swells which will carry them over 10,000 miles around Antarctica to Cape Horn.

The fourth British-based competitor, Conrad Humphreys, is 12th and over 1,000 miles behind Riou while the last-placed Norbert Sedlacek of Austria is nearly 2,000 miles behind but, remarkably, after three weeks, all 20 starters are still racing.