Sailing: Britons rule the waves as they set pace in yacht races

Anglo-French rivalry has been fought out in many arenas but perhaps nowhere more so than on the high seas. And yesterday the English sailors Mike Golding and Ellen MacArthur put themselves in position to deliver mighty blows to Gallic nautical pride as they made significant progress in the two most gruelling waterborne challenges known to man.

Anglo-French rivalry has been fought out in many arenas but perhaps nowhere more so than on the high seas. And yesterday the English sailors Mike Golding and Ellen MacArthur put themselves in position to deliver mighty blows to Gallic nautical pride as they made significant progress in the two most gruelling waterborne challenges known to man.

After 66-days at sea Mike Golding, a heavy smoker who has not only been battling monstrous waves but who ran out of cigarettes some days ago, stole 23 miles ahead of his French rival Vincent Riou to lead the Vendée Globe solo round-the-world race. The 44-year-old married father now faces the heady prospect of being the first non-Frenchman to win the race, widely considered to be the toughest in the sport.

With 5,000 miles to go, he is hoping to finish at the end of January at Les Sables d'Olonne in western France.

Just seven days ago Golding, aboard the 60ft Ecover, was more than 250 miles off the lead, badly hampered by a broken mainsail halyard. Five years ago, his dream of winning the race was shattered after only eight hours when his mast snapped. But yesterday he was said to be "chirpy" and appeared confident, if a little guarded. "Clearly it's a good result this morning but we'll wait and see how it pans out once we're through the trough," he said, referring to the depression which has sent him powering into the lead.

"We may come to a stop but it doesn't look like that is going to be the case," he said.

In a separate but equally gruelling endeavour, his friend and sometime-rival Ellen MacArthur rounded Cape Horn four days, two hours and 45 minutes ahead of the solo round-the-world record she is chasing - set by another Frenchman, Francis Joyon, a year ago.

As she rounded the tip of South America in 30ft waves and 60-knot gusts in her 75ft trimaran B&Q to begin the final trek north across the Atlantic to the finish line off the Lizard in Cornwall, she admitted to being strangely moved at putting the Southern Ocean behind her.

MacArthur's reports on her website, www.teamellen.com, have earned her a loyal and passionate following. She said yesterday: "I cannot feel I shall miss this wild and wonderful place but somehow the south finds a place inside you that you were unaware you had ... the albatross we see on this voyage are now numbered, their graceful flight and companionship will have to remain etched in my mind till next time."

Barring a calamity, the two sailors could be set for a double celebration when they are reunited next month as the English prepare to savour a double victory over their old maritime rival.

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