Telefonica takes charge in Round Britain race

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The Independent Online

After a high speed dash up the North Sea the leaders in the Sevenstar Round Britain and Ireland Race had covered 440 miles in the first 24 hours after leaving Cowes on the Isle of Wight and were heading for an attack on the Shetland Islands before turning left and west to skirt Scotland.

The Spanish Volvo race yacht Telefonica, skippered by Iker Martinez with Britain's Neal McDonald as watch captain and Australia's Andrew Cape as navigator, has been setting the pace from the start. Chasing them in another VO70 is France's Franck Cammas in Groupama while in between the two on the water but third on the leaderboard is Jonny Malbon, recent competitor in the Figaro Solo race but now, still wearing Artemis colours, in an open 60.

The overall leader on handicap is the RYA Keelboat Academy's TP52, John Merricks II. The average age of the team is under 24 and they have been training hard all season, as skipper Luke McCarthy explains; "It is a tough call to take on this course in a TP52, but this team has been working hard and should we have any problems we know how to fix just about anything. It is very wet, even down below, but we have made some modifications to the bulkheads, so that John Merricks II is a bit more user-friendly offshore."

Piet Vroon's Ker 46, Tonnerre de Breskens, was leading Class Zero, loving heavy weather and flying up the North Sea past Vroon's homeland, The Netherlands. Vroon claims that, after a lifetime of racing, including 25 Fastnet Races as skipper, this race will be his swan-song.

Ahead of all the remaining 25 fully crewed boats – Mike Slade's 100-foot Leopard retired after just two hours with gear damage - French skipper Sidney Gavignet has smashed the single handed Round Britain and Ireland record on the 105-foot trimaran Oman Air. He broke the old record set by Thomas Coville in Sodebo in 2006 by 1d 15h 30m 44s and additionally means he beat by 1 hour and 7 seconds the fully crewed record was set by Steve Fosset on Playstation in 2002.

Gavignet's new record, which has to be ratified, for the 1,787 miles is 4d 15h 9m 47s.

He returns to France ahead of tackling the single handed Route du Rhum race in November.

In Cartagena. Spain, Britain's Team Origin in Audi MedCup mode with its Juan Kouyoumdjian-designed TP52, took no chances by winning the practice race of the fourth regatta, staged in light airs that are forecast to continue.

It is always considered bad luck, but the Swedish yacht Artemis, winner of the third regatta in Barcelona last month, had no such qualms, showing an impressive turn of speed in the hands of Paul Cayard.

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