Some 20 boats sailed out from the French port of Les Sables d'Olonne on Saturday for the Vendée Globe race, a gruelling three-month circumnavigation of the globe, with Groupe Bel, skippered by France's Kito de Pavant. But the number of racers was reduced by one after less than six hours, when key contender Safran, skippered by Marc Guillemot, was forced to pull out with a broken keel.
Guillemot said that he heard "two loud noises" 60 miles out from the start and had to turn back. The team then withdrew as they did not have a spare keel. "I don't know if we hit something or not," Guillemot said. "We are trying to know what happened."
Three British sailors are involved in the Vendée Globe, which has £120,000 on offer to the winners and has been won by Frenchmen in all six previous races: Mike Golding, Alex Thomson, and the only female entrant, Sam Davies.
Davies' best finish was fourth in 2009, while Thomson, who was fifth last night, has competed twice but had to pull out early both times. Golding posted a third-placed finish in 2005.
François Gabart in Macif was leading by 11 miles as of last night.