Sailing: MacArthur embarks on fresh feat of endurance

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The Independent Online

The Transat Jacques Vabre, staged every two years, is a high-pressure race for crews who often operate as single-handers, but now take turn and turn about to push the boats, and themselves, as hard as possible. An overall plan is agreed, help can be requested when needed, but this is not for sitting in the evening sun mulling over the meaning of life. Monosyllabic grunts are more likely than conversation, which is reserved for the outside world of the press.

A testing mixture of conditions includes an opening 48 hours which is forecast to include some boat-threatening uphill work down the Channel and round Ushant, including a couple of slaps in the face from a pair of unfriendly gale-force systems.

After that it is down to the soothing rhythm of trade wind sailing, followed by the tricky negotiation of the Doldrums, and ending in the tropical sunshine of Caipirinhaville.

Six hundred miles down the TJV track, the seven boats in the Volvo Ocean Race enter new territory today with a points-scoring inshore race in Sanxenxo. But they have to wait in Galicia for another week before racing to Cape Town.

Though the multihull division in the TJV, which sets off on its 5,200-mile course tomorrow, is a traditionally Gallic affair, there is a strong Anglo-Saxon influence among the monohulls. This includes MacArthur returning to a peer group and environment which she enjoys most. She co-skippers with one of France's most respected, Roland Jourdain. The language on board will be French but he says: "This is my first race with a woman but Ellen has an exceptional personality. While I may know the boat a little better, she is quick to learn. I am sure Ellen will teach me many things."

There has been growing respect for British competitors in what were once regarded as French, rather than international, races and that has increased with the move by Mark Turner, MacArthur's business partner, to introduce a rival Barcelona World Race at the same time as the TJV in 2007. TJV's director, Pierre Bojic, is both reserving judgement and says of the diary clash: "It is stupid to have this race at this date."

Not that there is any hint of an attempted Little Englander takeover. There is a fourth TJV for Mike Golding, though his first with Switzerland's Dominique Wavre, and the irrepressible Miranda Merron, one of Britain's unsung, underrated, free-spirit campaigners, is with Anne Liardet. Other interesting partnerships like Brian Thompson with the Australian Will Oxley offer a threat to front-runner rivals like the French pair of Jean-Pierre Dick, the winner of the last race, now with Loick Peyron, Jean le Cam and Kito de Pavant, or Bernard Stamm and Yann Elies.

Among the 50-footers, there are three Brit-American duos. Designer Merfyn Owen partners Kip Stone, the British-born international wanderer Paul Metcalf is with Ryan Finn, and Josh Hall is with Joe Harris.

Paul Cayard has replaced the injured Nigel King with Erle Williams for the Disney-backed Pirates of the Caribbean in the Volvo Ocean Race and called up Simon Daubney as a trimmer for today's inshore race.