Change of direction for round island race

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Wild and windy weather forecasts meant a last minute about turn for the 27 yachts in the Sevenstar Round Britain and Ireland Race as they lined up for the start off the Royal Yacht Squadron.

The organising Royal Ocean Racing Club has a long memory of what can happen if offshore racing yachts are sent out into the Irish Sea only to be hit by confused seas whipped up by 50 to 60-knot winds. The 1979 Fastnet Race saw every emergency service mobilised and 15 people lose their lives.

The 1,800-miler was instead switched from clockwise to anti-clockwise mode, taking the yachts east up the Channel, quickly through the crowded Dover Straits and then north through the North Sea oil platforms before turning left over the Shetlands and down past the west coast of Ireland.

If the breeze does not then turn light, there is every chance of a new course record with Mike Slade's 100-foot Leopard the scratch boat and a pair of Open 70s from the Volvo stable, Spain's Telefonica and France's Groupama posing a constant threat.

Groupama, skippered by Franck Cammas, was also in a pre-start collision with Dutchman Piet Vroon's 46-foot Tonnerre de Breskens hitting them while still on their morring, but a quick assessment of the damage judged the boat still fit to race.

Questioned about the change of course, Groupama 70's navigator Luc Nelias said: say: "This decision doesn't come as a surprise to us, especially as regards the smallest boats, who would have taken a real hammering around Fastnet with 50 knots of breeze. It's a lot of wind, added to which the sea state would also have been very bad. By switching the direction of the course, they'll be spared."

Eddie Warden Owen, ceo of the RORC added: "The Sevenstar is a difficult race as you're constantly sailing close to the coast and there are numerous changes in heading. Those sailors competing in the race are also here to enjoy themselves and get to the finish, not to break their boats."

"They went off like scalded cats," added Warden Owen, Telefonica storming past Leopard to lead through the forts at the Portsmouth exit from the Solent . But Gottfried Possi's 40-foot Celox, which had been struggling to put everything together in time for the start, did not even make it that far. An ambitious choice of spinnaker ripped the mast out of the deck and the fleet was down to 26.

The World Match Race Tour has announced the cancellation of the Qingdao event with less than two months to go. Legal action is likely to follow, but the Chinese government is known to have decided on Hainan Island as its centre of sailing excellence, despite Qingdao having hosted the sailing at the 2008 Olympic Games.

The tour is in St. Moritz the first week in September with Britain 's Ben Ainslie on parade having won the last event in Marstrand and skippering the Team Origin TP52 in the Audi MedCup in Cartagena , Spain , this week.

Round Britain and Ireland Race contender Neal McDonald is blogging exclusively for The Independent for the duration of the contest. Keep up to date with the latest developments by clicking here.

You can follow the Round Britain and Ireland Race with a live tracker by clicking here.