Sailing: Golding ready for his last great adventure

Singlehanded round-the-world racer is due a change of fortune
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The Independent Online

At least one set of demons will be denied their fun on this Hallowe'en night. Because there is another week to go before the start of the Vendée Globe singlehanded, non-stop round-the-world race, the top British competitor, Mike Golding, who is also one of the overall favourites, can sleep easy in his bed.

At least one set of demons will be denied their fun on this Hallowe'en night. Because there is another week to go before the start of the Vendée Globe singlehanded, non-stop round-the-world race, the top British competitor, Mike Golding, who is also one of the overall favourites, can sleep easy in his bed.

The last time he set sail the event, in 2000, Golding, who was one of the favourites, was dismasted within eight hours of the start, took eight days to restart with a spare mast shipped with some speed from England, and then attacked the task of pushing himself and his boat all the way round the course knowing he had no chance of winning. The glory on that occasion, of course, went to Ellen MacArthur, who, although beaten into second place by Michel Desjoyeaux, burst on to the international scene as a result.

This time Golding is one of four British-based competitors out of the 21 entries who are lined up on the dock at Les Sables d'Olonne on the French coast. He has a trademark obsession about preparation and attention to detail. He is not just ready, he is thoroughly impatient to start, while his rivals are completing frantic last-minute work.

But the first little sigh of relief will be as dawn breaks, not tomorrow but on the following Monday morning, when he will relax, knowing that the same demon which wreaked such havoc before has not struck again.

For Golding, this race is a summation of all his life's work to date. The last Vendée has not been his only disappointment - he ran aground rounding the tip of New Zealand's North Island when he was leading the Around Alone Race. But this last summer he finally reached the top of the podium in a major international race, winning the Transat singlehanded race from Plymouth to Boston.

But Golding has never quite achieved celebrity status and, at 44, he says publicly that this will be his last crack at the one big event he has always wanted to win, the Vendée. A combination of a young son at home and the anno domini factor has led him to believe he should then step back from being a competitor to taking on a more managerial role. But he wants to go out on a high, so all the eggs are in the Vendée basket.

His strategy this time is based on making sure he is at least right on the shoulders of the leaders going into the final run back up the Atlantic - being in the lead himself would be a welcome bonus. "My pace will be set by my fellow competitors," he explains. "I have always sailed the fleet and I am seldom one who would take a tactical flyer or do something radically different. It used to be that, in the Vendée, people moderated their effort. It was a marathon. Now it is a sprint marathon, and you cannot let anyone get away. But there will be a leading group and I predict that it will split away quite early, and after that there will be a level of attrition."

Golding believes that, while still having to be prudent when conditions, especially during the charge around Antarctica in the Southern Ocean, threaten the safety of both the skippers and their boats, he will have to be ready to push hard.

"I have to be in touch at Cape Horn and, if I am, then I can win," he says, referring to the known performance capabilities he has built into his boat, Ecover, designed by Merfyn Owen. "I would like to be in the lead, but, when saying I would like to be in touch, I mean within 150 miles of the leader."

Golding and Owen have tried to ensure that his Open 60 will have a distinct advantage when it comes to making fast progress upwind in the lighter conditions which can prevail in both the south and north Atlantic.

After he returns home, his future includes the thought of doing a Volvo Ocean Race campaign, though probably not sailing all the legs. "Frankly I'd love to do the Volvo; I think the new boats will be awesome," he says, but, right now all the focus is on this last bid for single-handed glory. "We are back with a really good team and a really good sponsor," he says. Now it is up to just one man. Mike Golding very badly wants to be that man.

Meanwhile, a few miles further north at Lorient, MacArthur is already on standby for her attempt to beat the singlehanded round-the-world record in her new 75ft, Nigel Irens-designed trimaran, B&Q. Her target is the time of 72 days, 22 hours set by Francis Joyon in February this year.

She will choose her start date in the hope of a sling-shot start which will also line her up for a fast run south through the Doldrums. Joyon enjoyed considerable luck all the way round with favourable wind patterns, and MacArthur will similarly need the elements to be on her side.

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