Sailing: Solo race sets off for wintry waters

Emotional departures from the Port Olona marina followed by frustrating light winds at the start should soon be replaced by trademark rough conditions for the 20 solo yachts, led away by France's Vincent Riou in PRB, which set off yesterday on the Vendée Globe non-stop round the world race.

Emotional departures from the Port Olona marina followed by frustrating light winds at the start should soon be replaced by trademark rough conditions for the 20 solo yachts, led away by France's Vincent Riou in PRB, which set off yesterday on the Vendée Globe non-stop round the world race. By the time they reach the appropriately named Cape Finisterre on the north-west corner of Spain tonight, winter gales should be in evidence.

For the race favourite, Mike Golding, surrounded by family, friends and well-wishers, a quiet start was welcome. He was a conservative 15th across the start line. Having been dismasted eight hours into the last race in 2000 he said: "Of course it plays on your mind. We have checked everything and been ultra-careful but something can always scupper you. On the other hand, I know what is ahead, we have had a good year, and we feel as though we are on a roll."

Depending on how directly the yachts can sail, the fleet faces up to 24,000 miles, or 90 to 100 days, of 24-hour racing. Nearly half of it, or 10,350 miles, is taken up with the run through the Southern Ocean around Antarctica after turning left through the gate at the bottom of the Atlantic to pick up the big winds and mountainous seas that girdle the earth between the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Horn.

The run home through the unpredictable south Atlantic, back across the Doldrums and into the last lap up to Les Sables d'Olonne is another 7,000 miles. The race can easily be won and lost on that leg.

"Personally, I would prefer a good 50 knots on the nose for the first week," said Alex Thomson, who was a gentle sixth across the line on Hugo Boss. But he accepts that the lighter conditions will give him time to settle himself and the boat down and "just enjoy a fast couple of days".

Looking more reserved and thoughtful, the third Briton, Conrad Humphreys, seventh across the line in Hellomoto, said he was "quite excited", having spent five years working to be on the start line. "I am feeling very calm, very relaxed and very focused," he said, adding that he may be one of those making a push west, as well as south, in the search for stronger winds a few days down the track.

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