A win that proves the French really do rule the waves

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The Independent Online

The French yachtsman Michel Desjoyeaux cemented his reputation as one of the world's greatest solo sailors yesterday by cruising to victory for the second time in the gruelling Vendée Globe round-the-world race.

The non-stop 24,000 mile, single-handed contest is considered to be one of the most dangerous and gruelling competitions in the world. It routinely pits sailors against howling storms and monstrous waves in some of the globe's toughest oceans.

More than half of the 30 entrants in this year's race have been forced to retire, including two who were dramatically rescued in the freezing seas of the Southern Ocean.

Desjoyeaux narrowly beat Dame Ellen MacArthur eight years ago to win the 2001 race. Yesterday he shattered the current Vendée Globe record by more than four days. As well as taking home the €150,000 (£132,000) prize, he becomes the first competitor to snatch victory in the Vendée twice.

A flotilla of welcome vessels sailed out to greet the 44-year-old solo skipper yesterday as he crossed the finish line in his yacht Foncia, near the French port of Les Sables d'Olonne, following a gruelling 83 days, three hours and nine minutes at sea.

This season's Vendée Globe, a race held once every four years, had the largest contingent of British sailors in the race's history, all determined to topple France's historical dominance of round-the-world solo sailing.

Seven British competitors, including Samantha Davies and Dee Caffari, the competition's only female racers, set off from Les Sables d'Olonne last November, but three were forced to pull out. Davies, a French-based Cambridge engineering graduate and her yacht Roxy are currently leading the British pack, in fourth place.

But she faces stiff competition from French rival Marc Guillemot and fellow Brit Brian Thompson, who remain close behind her.

The podium this year looks set to be dominated once again by French sailors, with Roland Jourdain and Armel Le Cléac'h battling it out for second and third place.

But there is a chance that Davies could still win third. Jourdain is expected to anchor in the Azores to repair a damaged keel, which may see him lose out on the podium. Davies is expected to cross the finish at the end of this week at the earliest.

In sailing circles Desjoyeaux's victory is being hailed as one of the greatest yet solo round-the-world performances, not least because he began the first week of the race more than 670 miles behind the lead boat.

Within hours of setting off in November, Desjoyeaux was forced to return to repair a leak in the ballast tank which had flooded the engine compartment and burnt out a vital electrical circuit.

He ended up restarting the race 40 hours behind everyone else, but over the course of the next three months he clawed his way into the lead, coming in more than 1,300 nautical miles ahead of the current second place, Jourdain.

Desjoyeaux said yesterday it was a wonderful feeling to win for a second time: "It's incredible. I may have done it eight years ago, but it's still incredible. I can't take it in.

"I won the Vendée Globe before the start with the choices I made, with the team and with the experience I have built up. Eighty per cent of the end result is before the start of the race."

He added: "Everyone knows the Vendee is hard and it is only normal there aren't many of us finishing. It's the hardest race that exists."

Davies was one of the first to congratulate her rival yesterday.

Speaking from her boat, Roxy, which took Desjoyeaux to victory in 2000 and Riou to victory in 2004, she said: "I can really say that Mich is my hero. He was my favourite since the beginning and the race he has done is simply incredible, and well deserved."

Sailors in the Vendée Globe often have to survive on as little as 20 minutes sleep each day. Two people have been killed since the race was founded in 1990, and there have been several lucky escapes by competitors that could easily have been fatal.