Sailing: Ecover storms ahead as high winds cause havoc

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The Independent Online

The transat Jacques Vabre fleet took a first-night hammering in the English Channel that led to one boat capsizing and its crew being rescued by air, one dismasting, and two yachts running for cover for repairs as Britain's Mike Golding and his co-skipper, Brian Thompson, in Ecover, took the lead in the two-handed race to Salvador, Brazil.

The Canadian pair, Georges Leblanc and Marc Nadeau, were lifted off by helicopter and taken for precautionary checks in a Cherbourg hospital after the keel came off their yacht, Ciments Saint-Laurent-Océan. Heading for the same port were Anne Caseneuve and Christophe Houdet after their 50-foot trimaran, Atlantic Nature, was dismasted. Also in Cherbourg were Antoine Koch and François Robert to replace the mainsail of their Loire Atlantique, while heading for Dartmouth was the father and son pairing of Mike Birch, 71, and Robert who experienced mast gear failure.

While the wind had eased slightly during the day yesterday to just a south-westerly gale from the gusts of 60 knots on the first night of the race, it was due to pick up again to about 50 knots overnight, and conditions are expected to be rough and tough until the fleet is as far south as the Canary Islands.

As expected, race organisers delayed yesterday's start for the 60-foot trimarans. They will now start at 10am on Wednesday and the course will be shortened by about 1,000 miles after the dog-leg around the Ascension Islands was abandoned.

"It has been so bumpy and wet," Golding said. "The waves are short ... but it has been a good test for the rig, so we are making sure we play it carefully and settle into it."

Hoping that a slightly more northerly course will pay dividends, Emma Richards and Mike Sanderson were sixth in Pindar, just behind Nick Moloney and Sam Davies in Team Cowes.

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