Great start for Caffari as Vendée Globe draws huge crowd

A great start for Dee Caffari's Aviva, a premature start for Mike Golding's Ecover, and the prospect of steadily increasing winds formed part of the backdrop to the Vendée Globe race in a jam-packed Les Sables d'Olonne yesterday.

There were estimates that over 300,000 people turned up to see the 30 Open 60s process through the canal which connects the fishing port town to the sea, seven of them with British skippers. Caffari had been the first to leave and she was in the top group as they crossed the line at the start of a race which takes them down the Atlantic, round Antarctica and back up the Atlantic nearly three month later.

Golding had to turn round and restart. It is a war of attrition that means many will not finish and the first casualty was reported after just two house when Switzerland's Dominique Wavre reported he was returning to fix electrical problems which meant he could not charge his batteries. He hope to restart overnight. Alex Thomson had also had to overcome a battery problem, replacing all of them with just 24 hours to go, the last of many upsets which threatened to keep him and his repaired Hugo Boss out of the race. After three hours he was the leading British contender in seventh place as the fleet was led jointly by Sebastien Josse in Ellen MacArthur's BT and Marcc Guillemot in Safran.

In twelth place was Brian Thompson's Bahrain Team Pindar with Caffari one place behind. Jonny Malbon's Artemis was 17th, Sam Davies was 19th in Roxy and Golding was playing catch-up in 24th. Last on the water, but 29th, was Steve White's Spirit of Weynouth.

In Valencia, the British America's Cup squad was making its presence felt and winning praise from the other competitors in their fleet training races - no match racing this time - which forms part of the annual regatta being staged by the Challenger of Record, the Club Nautico Espanol de Vela.

Apart from winning a race in their borrowed Spanish team boat, skipper Ben Ainslie and tactician Iain Percy also gave their Spanish benefactors, skippered by Paul Cayard with John Cutler as tactician, a hard time in the newer of the green Desafio Espanol boats. But, while the cup holder, Switzerland's Alinghi, was putting together a string of wins on the water, it was very clear ashore that it is now expected that the legal challenge to be made Challenger of record abe granted a one-on-one match for the Cup by Larry Ellison's San Francisco-based BMW Oracle will run its course.

Ernesto Bertarelli is still planning for two Alinghi-run events in Valencia next year and his skipper Brad Butterworth will chair a second general meeting for 12 potential challengers in Geneva onTuesday. At the same time the design co-ordinator for a new class of America's Cup boat, Tom Schnackenberg, will lead a technical session with a view to having a new class rule published by the end of this year. Alinghi wants the new boat also to be suitable for racing outside any Cup events. They are still insisting on only one boat per team, including themselves, and that they should be able to race the challengers as part of their own preparation.

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