Housewife pins faith in her motley crew

Stuart Alexander on the challenge from Eastbourne's Jacky MacGillivary (right) to the best sailors in the world
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The Independent Online
A gauntlet was thrown down bravely in one of the bastions of yacht racing yesterday by a "housewife and mother" from Eastbourne. Speaking at the Royal Thames Yacht Club in Knightsbridge, Jacky MacGillivary promised of the Sussex Challenge for the 1997-98 Whitbread Round the World Race: "We will be prepared both mentally and physically to take on the rest of the world and come out on top."

The announcement comes at a time when the Whitbread as a whole is seeking to reinject some momentum, particularly in terms of top-level contestants, when Britain could do with its own fully professional campaign, and when the rival Grand Mistral Race, scheduled to start this September, is reaching crunch point on its own line-up.

The 42-year-old MacGillivary, whose husband is part of the crew and is project director, refused to disclose how much of the nearly pounds 3m needed for the project has so far been committed. She has some support from Bupa International, the private health insurer, though they see this as a local, rather than international, initiative.

That, at least, means the challenge is buying a boat. They have chosen the 1993-94 contender from Ukraine, Hetman Sahaidachny, subject to survey and title provenance, which came a poor seventh. MacGillivary admits that the yacht is rather on the heavy side, but feels that its potential has not yet been realised and that she has spotted winning potential. "It's a super hull," she said.

In addition, she is saying that the challenge can make it to the start line in September 1997, which implies that she also has commitments for the pounds 250,000 entry fee needed to take part. Assuming the yacht was bought for a maximum of pounds 200,000, the further budget necessary to maintain it for 18 months, make modifications, develop sails, build new sails for each of the legs and send them to the stopovers in a workshop container means a budget already pushing towards pounds 1m.

Bupa's representative, Neil Horseman, refused to confirm that his firm was putting in anything like pounds 1m. Other support has so far been confined to local companies, the Eastbourne College of Arts and Technology, and a link to the charity Business Against Drugs.

Sussex Challenge's chairman, Nikolai Askaroff, a food company boss and accountant, conceded that he is looking for an additional pounds 2m. For that he may have to look beyond Sussex, despite the availability of big company budgets at Gatwick and Brighton.

What neither he, nor Bupa, nor the other emissaries from Sussex, seemed to have any doubt about was MacGillivary's dream of her amateurs taking on opponents in a race that has developed from sporting endeavour and adventure into a full-blooded ocean grand prix contested by skippers and crews of the highest calibre.

Her own crew list includes references to a former marine who joined "because he had nothing better to do", and a hairdresser whose interests include swimming and roller skating. Other crew have been picked because of their ability to demonstrate the right attitude, rather than on a track record of success in the top echelons of yacht racing.

So why had MacGillivary chosen to tilt at the Whitbread rather than the BT Global Challenge, specifically designed for amateurs who want to test themselves, and pay for it, by sailing the wrong way round the world?

She poured scorn on such an idea. "The BT Race doesn't give any advantage to anyone who wants to race at a high level," she said. "I think the Whitbread is the premium event. It's not for wimps. We are not wimps."