Ian Walker and team celebrate first points in Alicante

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The Independent Online

As Ian Walker and his Abu Dhabi team were celebrating the first points on the water of the Volvo round the world race the first big row was kicking off shoreside in Alicante.

Walker led from start to finish in the falcon-emblazoned black 70-footer, coping smoothly with the light and tricky winds off Spain’s Mediterranean coast.

But French contender Groupama questioned the legality of third-placed Spanish entry Camper over the way in which the mast is rigged and controlled. The Team New Zealand-managed boat is the only one of the six which starts the first offshore leg to Cape Town next weekend to have opted for a system which can adjust the mast-retaining stay rigged from the bow of the boat.

Earlier doubts were cast by both Abu Dhabi and Puma, the American-flagged entry. After the formal complaint by the French, the Spanish team Telefonica piled in with its own submission, leaving the international jury, headed by Britain’s Bryan Willis to settle the matter.

In the last race a Swedish boat, Ericsson 3, was deemed to have broken the rules governing keel design and had to sail with a penalty until the keel was restructured. It is thought, however, that, even if the jury decision goes the wrong way, Camper would able to effect a plan B configuration before the start next Saturday.

A stormy welcome awaits the fleet of doublehanders waiting in Le Havre to start the Transat Jacques Vabre race to Costa Rica on Sunday.

French skipper Yann Eliès summed it saying that all should be good at the start but “things start to get a little tricky with everything hotting up. A touch of Tabasco and then a real vindaloo.”

He is predicting up to a full gale of 40 knots and waves up to 30 feet and “violent seas.”

Two British skippers are more than ready to tough it out. Mike Golding has a new Spanish sponsor, wind turbine manufacturer Gamesa and a French co-skipper Bruno Dubois. “I think, in terms of the boat, we are absolutely fine,” said Golding, for whom crossing the Atlantic is little more than a commute. “But in terms of the weather, I am a bit nervous. The reports are pretty worrying. It looks like a lot of bad weather, one after the other, over the first week to 10 days.”

Back in the black, Farr-designed Hugo Boss is Alex Thomson, partnered by Spain’s Guillermo Altadil. Thomson pulled out of the last Barcelona Race, first with appendicitis just before the start and then permanently as his baby son Oscar went through heart surgery, so he said: “Definitely, this is one we have to finish.”

He had also had to pull out of the Vendée Globe singlehanded round the world race after his boat was damaged by a French fishing boat and he has had to be rescued – by Golding – after turning turtle 1,200 miles south of South Africa.

“But these things happen. I have to get on with it. You have two options – you either let it go and not let it worry you just get on with the next one, or probably end up in a downward spiral and never come back.”

There is a strong contingent of Class 40 yachts in the TJV, including the British pairing of Ned Collier Wakefield and Sam Goodchild, but two of that class have just finished the first leg of the Global Challenge in Cape Town with the Kiwi father and son team of Ross and Campbell Field taking the chequered flag ahead of the Franco-British duo of Halvard Mabire and Miranda Merron.

“We do not think we pushed as hard as them, partly because we do not know the boat, yet,” said Merron. “Partly because we are paying the heavy physical price of our year of boat building without any time off.”