Davies set for Valentine's finish

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Britain's newest solo sailing heroine was heading for a St. Valentine's Day love affair with the French public today.

Sam Davies, the Cambridge engineering graduate in the shocking pink racing machine that is Roxy, was due to cross the finish line at Les Sables d'Olonne to take third place in one of the four peaks of world sailing, the Vendee Globe.

This was the race that catapulted Dame Ellen MacArthur to fame, when she finished second in the 27,000-mile non-stop marathon in 2001.

The man who beat MacArthur then was the winner again this year, Michel Desjoyeaux. The boat in which he did it was the same one which Davies has steered so coolly to another podium success. The man who has been awarded joint third with her, but did not finish, Vincent Riou, was the winner in that same boat in 2005.

Davies, who lives in the Brittany village of Kerlin with her partner and her cats, has taken the race by the throat, the public by storm, and is as fresh and cheerful at the finish as she was at the start on 9 November.

Then there were 30, now, nearly 97 days later, there are 11 and one of them, the man in fourth place, Marc Guillemot, is nursing his boat home minus the keel.

Then there were two women, both British, and now there are two, Dee Caffari is sixth in Aviva and could yet make the top five. She will also complete the double of sailing solo, non-stop round the world both ways; the only woman to do so. The first two women to take part were Catherine Chabaud and Isabelle Autissier, with Anne Liardet and Karen Leibovici also competing.

There were seven British entries, plus the honorary Brit Sebastien Josse sailing Ellen MacArthur's boat, BT, and four are still on the track. Brian Thompson is fifth and the remarkable Steve White from Weymouth is eighth in a 10-year old boat. He mortgaged everything he could find, including his home, and is poised to make a crazy dream come true.

Alex Thomson was knocked out by structural damage, Mike Golding was dismasted hours after taking the lead in the Southern Ocean, and Jonny Malbon retired when he thought his mainsail could take no more punishment.

Guillemot is having to sail so gingerly that he fears he will not only not catch Davies but could also be overtaken by both Thompson and Caffari. He was given 82 hours of compensation for standing by fellow competitor Yann Elies until he could be rescued by the Australian navy and taken for treatment for his broken leg.

Davies was also given 32 hours for altering course in case back-up was needed, but the likelihood of Guillemot being less than 50 hours behind Davies was evaporating yesterday. Elies plans to welcome them both home to the Vendee fishing port which is home to the race.

Riou was, unusually, awarded joint third place when he was dismasted after rescuing Jean le Cam. He was third at the time but, given what has happened to then second-placed Roland Jourdain and Guillemot, the decision looks very presumptive.

Desjoyeaux finished on 1 February in a new record time of of 84d 3h 9m 8s having re-started 40 hours behind the fleet. Second was Armel le Cleac'h on 7 February.

Meanwhile, only one race could be sailed in the final of the Louis Vuitton Pacific Series between the America's Cup holders Alinghi and their opponents of both 2003 and 2007, Emirates Team New Zealand. The strong wind in Auckland's Waitemata harbour also forced the organisers to cut the decider from a best of seven to a best of five.

The Swiss sailed untroubled to win that race and so have only two more to win today to secure a fun series that they always took seriously.

Just four boats will line up on Saturday for the fifth leg of the Volvo round the world race from Qingdao, China, to Rio de Janeiro. At 12,300 miles, it is the longest in the history of the race.

A fifth, Ericsson 3, will join the leg as soon as it arrives from Taiwan, is restocked and a full complement of 10 crew and embedded media man is on board.