Sailors predict flat out race to Costa Rica in the Transat Jacques Vabre

The wind whipping up the Channel and into the harbour of Le Havre today served notice to the 20 yachts in the Bassin Paul Vatine that, come Sunday when they set off on the 5,000-mile Transat Jacques Vabre to Costa Rica, that the price of a sunny South American finish will be an opening autumnal slap in the face.

For the four British double-handed crews among the 14 Open 60s, futures are at stake, reputations are on the line. There will be no room for error. The man who won the race two years ago, the current titleholder also in the Vendee Globe solo round the world, said bluntly: "This is a race where you put a heavy stone on the accelerator pedal and leave it there."

The Independent's Stuart Alexander talks to Dee Caffari and Brian Thompson:





He expects to be pushing his boat Foncia up to 95 per cent of capacity, compared with 60 to 80 when singlehanded in the Vendee Globe.

His win earlier this year took so much out of him that, at the moment, he says he cannot face going again. "Today I don't have the motivation to do it a third time," he says.

Sam Davies, partnered by Frenchman Sidney Gavignet, rivals turned collaborators Dee Caffari and Brian Thompson, a transitional Alex Thomson with Ross Daniel, and a sponsorless Mike Golding digging into his own funds to race with Spain's Javier Sanso form a string British presence on what remains a largely French patch.

This is Golding's sixth appearance in the coffee company sponsorship of one of the three big transatlantic races so beloved by the French - the other two are the Route du Rhum to Guadeloupe and the daddy of them all, the British-founded Transat, so far always out of Plymouth.

It is also one of the only two world class doublehanded races, the other being the Barcelona non-stop round the world. Where long-distance races require a more measured rhythm, all four of the British crews have emphasised the need to be quick out of the blocks in order to be up front when turning onto the mid-Atlantic belt of favourable trade winds.

Weather expert and racing router Mike Broughton says that the new route has changed the whole conduct of the race. Two years ago Golding had been in the lead for five days and then took a losing option crossing the Doldrums.

There are no Doldrums to cross on the new route; find yourself near the back after exiting the Channel, rounding Ushant and heading south and playing catch-up could be a forlorn game. "By the time you reach Madeira you need to be in the lead," say Broughton. "After that it will be all about downwind speed."

Expect, also, some of the crews to take early their only opportunity to play a 24-hour stealth card, which hides their route choice and progress from being transmitted to the rest of the fleet and the world.

If life is uncertain for three of the four British teams, Alex Thomson has a new deal in place which will see him doing the Barcelona race in the latest 60 to carry the Hugo Boss name, the former Pindar, designed by Juan Kouyoumdjian.

But, in a cycle which pivots around the Vendee Globe every four years and which finished in February this year, life is uncertain for many. Sam Davies must wait until early next year to see how Artemis plans to shape all of its yachting sponsorship, Dee Caffari's time with Aviva repeatedly comes to an end and is repeatedly extended, and Mike Golding is hoping for a new major sponsor for the Open 60 also to enter the Barcelona Race.

Thompson and Caffari both take the view that boatspeed will always be as important as brains and that making the fewest mistakes can avoid the "slippery slope" of trying to play catch up. Caffari is clearly more confident in her ability to control the boat after her 30,000 miles round the planet and "that looking after each other is really important. This race is huge and a good result would be awesome, I would really love it."

Thomson has put behind him a string of setbacks, including having his boat smashed just before the start of the last VG and then, after a massive repair effort to be on the start line, seeing other related problems forcing him out of the race.

"I have stopped saying 'why has this happened to me' and set myself up for the next one." On the same side of the dock, Mike Golding's former Ecover now has a new colour scheme, which he designed himself, has no sponsor name and he, too, had to overcome the bitter disappointment of being dismasted just after taking the lead in the VG.

"It's nice to be back in the swing of things," he said. "I have had to dig my hand into my own pocket in partnership with my long-time backer Philip Sorensen, but I hope it will be an investment. I need to prove the boat after the dismasting, the keel problems and all the other improvements we have done, so I need to stay in the arena. I just hope it isn't a swan song."

Golding at least has a second year of Extreme 40 sailing in 2010, when he will be 50. The same age as French legend Yves Parlier, though the wrinkle gods have been kinder to Golding. Parlier is at the helm of a Spanish yacht 1876, the year that its brewery backer Estrella Damm was founded.

He is something of an oracle, but his judgment is simple, not Delphic. "I think tactics will be the most important," he says.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor