Sailing: Fleet faces Atlantic battering

Force 7 winds, 60-knot gusts and 30-foot waves are on the menu for the 34 sailors in the 60-foot monohull class of the Transat Jacques Vabre over the next couple of days as they shoulder their way out of the English Channel en route for Bahia, Brazil. The forecast is so brutal the multihull class will wait in Le Havre for a couple of days.

Force 7 winds, 60-knot gusts and 30-foot waves are on the menu for the 34 sailors in the 60-foot monohull class of the Transat Jacques Vabre over the next couple of days as they shoulder their way out of the English Channel en route for Bahia, Brazil. The forecast is so brutal the multihull class will wait in Le Havre for a couple of days.

The monohulls got underway in a moderate northerly yesterday, but today will be punished by Atlantic headwinds. Among the 17 double-handed crews is a raft of UK talent out to prove itself on this 4,300-mile test, the biggest transatlantic race of the year.

"When I started in this game I was pretty much alone among the French," said Britain's Mike Golding. "Today there are Brits, Australians, New Zealanders, Italians, Spanish and all sorts, and Britain is right up there fighting for top honours."

Golding will be cautious as his new boat, Ecover, has sailed only 1,500 miles. Ultimately he will want a Vendée Globe win from his machine. But short-term, a good finish with signs of speed will do.

Not so the 29-year-old Alex Thomson, who purchased Sill, the boat that won this race two years ago, and has her skipper, Roland Jourdain, sailing with him. The French rank them as favourites.

"I'm comfortable with that," said Thomson as he left. "We'll be looking to be on the podium and preferably on the top of it."

Less is known about Sam Davies and Nick Moloney. But while Davies holds the world 24-hour speed record and Moloney was the winner of his class in the singlehanded Route du Rhum race last year, this is their first major test as a team.

Emma Richards raced around the world earlier this year and her partner, Mike Sanderson, has sailed in round-the-world races and the America's Cup. But in Pindar, Richards has a new boat and is trying radical new ideas. The short-term goal, however, is to survive the imminent hammering.

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