Being a public loner may seem a contradiction in terms, but 13 of them set off from New York on Sunday on a personal pilgrimage that will take them nearly nine months to complete. It has to be hoped that 13 will not be an unlucky number, for the Around Alone Race has seen death and destruction in its past. The sixth edition, which has returned to its original roots by gathering in Newport, Rhode Island, and finishing there five legs and 28,800 miles later, holds the same dangers of wild weather, personal injury, gear failure and mental fatigue that it has always done.
In the second AA, at his second attempt, Jacques de Roux was washed overboard and drowned on the second leg, and, in the fourth, Isabelle Autissier was lucky only to have to be rescued by the Australian Navy.
Harry Mitchell was lost on the third leg. In the last race, Autissier had to be rescued again and Britain's Mike Golding ran aground going round the northern tip of New Zealand when in the lead.
There have been, however, notable wins by Philippe Jeantot in the first two, Christophe Augin in the third, and a tour de force by Giovanni Soldini in the last.
Into this chequered history steps Switzerland's Bernard Stamm, the favourite to take the 60ft prize, and alongside him another of Britain's notable women sailors, Emma Richards. She has the renamed Pindar, steed of a former AA competitor, Josh Hall, and would be come the second British woman to race solo round the world if she completes the course. As she struggles to cope with hearing that the mast of her new Kingfisher, the former Orange, has been broken in two places, Ellen MacArthur will still have time for a supportive thought after her own magnificent performance in the non-stop single-hander, the Vendée Globe.
Having had to cope with a dismasting on his first attempt to cross the Atlantic to the start, Graham Dalton, brother of Grant, then suffered a double time penalty, one for completing his qualifying voyage late, the other for arriving at the prologue late. He will have 60 hours and 59 minutes added to his first leg time, which should put him well out of the points; but he will start even in Hexagon for the remaining legs. The Canadian John Dennis, in the Class 2 50-footer Bayer Ascensia, also incurred a penalty of 107 minutes and 30 seconds for arriving late. Simone Bianchetti, widening Tiscali's sponsorship from Formula One to ocean racing, at least had his mast break early. He has a new rig, as does Dalton, and starts on even terms.
The race, now run by Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, comes to Britain for the first time with the first leg to Brixham. The fleet then stretches its legs to Cape Town, takes in two southern ocean legs, first to Tauranga in New Zealand and then round Cape Horn to Bahia de Salvador in Brazil, before returning to Newport.
AROUND ALONE: Class 1: B Stamm (Switz) Armor Lux; B Schwab (US) Ocean Planet; E Richards (GB) Pindar; Graham Dalton (NZ) Hexagon; P de Radrigues (Bel) Garnier; S Bianchetti (It) Tiscali; T Dubois (Fr). Class 2: A Paris (Berm) BTC Velocity; B van Liew (US) Tommy Hilfiger; D Hatfield (Can) Spirit of Canada; J Dennis (Can) Bayer Ascensia; K Shiraishi (Japan) Spirit of Yukoh; T Kent (US) Everest Horizontal.