Skippers shelter from the storms

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The Independent Online

A skippers' revolt yesterday brought a dramatic end to a week of escalating tension, disappointment to the thousands thronging the dockside here and the postponement of the 2000 Vendée Globe Round The World Race.

A skippers' revolt yesterday brought a dramatic end to a week of escalating tension, disappointment to the thousands thronging the dockside here and the postponement of the 2000 Vendée Globe Round The World Race.

Live television had been scheduled and a crowd of more than a million expected to watch the 24 solo racers depart this afternoon on the 30,000-mile non-stop race, but the weather had other ideas.

The television and the crowds meant the race organisers were desperate to start on time and they began the final briefing with a weather synopsis that predicted 25-knot winds for the start and around 50 overnight tonight. But the competitors saw it differently and after Britain's Richard Tolkien declared that come what may he would delay until at least Monday, the sailors put the matter to a vote. Only one, the Frenchman Yves Parlier, voted to start on time, and the organisers were forced to delay until 3pm on Tuesday.

"It may seem strange that there are concerns when we are all going to the Southern Ocean in boats that are designed to take the worst the planet can offer," said Mike Golding, one of four British entries and favourite to break the French stranglehold on the race. "But there is a big difference between a battering when you are into your stride and blasting downwind, and 50 knots on the nose on the first of maybe a hundred nights at sea when you are still raw with the adrenalin of the build-up and the start."

The last time the 24-year-old Ellen MacArthur was racing her boat, Kingfisher, she was hammering home a stunning debut victory in a big transatlantic race in June.

MacArthur's goal has always been a top-10 finish in the Vendée Globe and nothing has changed. What has, and beyond recognition, is the demeanour of the race's youngest sailor who has breezed through the last week of scrutineering, safety checks, press conferences and endless attention with no trace of the strained look that pervaded the build-up to the transatlantic. "Victory did not increase my aspirations in terms of the result I can achieve," she said. "But it did give me confidence in myself and my boat and show me that I can actually do this. But like everybody, my primary goal is to arrive back here safely in four months."

Golding shares the sentiment. "It's an odd feeling when you are sitting here, to look around and think that the next time you will see another person you hope you will be back here in this same place."

Golding has spent most of the last five years with this race etched in his consciousness since he commissioned and built his Open 60, Team Group 4. Where racing drivers dream of racetracks, Golding visualises life on board, the tactical battle out of the start, the desolation of the Southern Ocean, the left turn around Cape Horn, the relative safety of the Atlantic and the finish. "I think that in order to win you have to be able to visualise yourself winning. I really can visualise myself arriving back here first at the end of it all."

But while Golding was not happy not to go to sea if the first night could have jeopardised his chances of winning, Josh Hall was itching to start and abstained from the vote. The Ipswich sailor used the proceeds from the sale of his house to build an identical hull to Team Group 4 and believes he is a realistic contender. "I love heavy weather and the boat is fast in it," Hall said. "I love the sea. In many ways I prefer it to the land. I can see the logic, but I am really disappointed."

All the worrying and arguing will soon give way to the relentless demands of living on no more than four hours sleep a day and an endless diet of freeze-dried food. Added to that, and the solitude, is the fact that in only one of the four previous Vendée Globes has there not been a fatality.

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