Sailing: Fastnet to set tactics test for Richards

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Other home challengers in a 14-strong Open 60 class are Mike Golding, Alex Thomson, Nick Moloney and Conrad Humphreys. The favourite, Roland Jourdain, with top weatherman Jean-Yves Bernot as one of five aboard, Marc Thiercelin, Jean-Pierre Dick and Bernard Stamm represent the challenge from mainland Europe.

If the forecasters are right, they are in for a tricky time. Light northerlies will have the tacticians constantly searching for advantage and then, as navigators, permanently worrying about squeezing through tidal gates before they turn against them.

They will still scoot round the course reasonably quickly, though without expectations of new records. Many of the smaller boats may be out for a long time. But even in light conditions, there are three yachts which should still hope to back at the finish in Plymouth by Wednesday.

The battle at the front is likely toinvolve a bunch of heavyweight Kiwis flown in to crew the 100-foot Maximus, and some similarly gnarly opponents from the other side of the Tasman on the 100-foot Wild Thing, on which Grant Wharington has been testing some ideas for the Open 70 he will race in the upcoming Volvo Ocean Race.

A real Open 70, the Spanish entry movistar, is in the hands of the Dutchman Bouwe Bekking. Having set a world record of 530 miles in 24 hours on the delivery trip to Europe from Australia, he saw similar performance coming up to Britain from Spain. Anything like a decent breeze from the west, even though he has had to ditch some sails, will see him pushing his much bigger rivals.

As Stuart Jardine was winning his sixth Cowes Week X One Design Captain's Cup in the western Solent, Bekking, further east, was joining an ancient and modern photocall, sailing alongside Simon le Bon on the 80-foot Drum, which capsized when losing her keel in the 1985 Fastnet. It was then rebuilt in six weeks to start the Volvo predecessor, the Whitbread Round the World Race.