Mistral blows itself out

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The Grand Mistral round the world race due to start from Marseille in September will not now take place, writes Stuart Alexander. After three days of meetings, the two French regions backing the running of the race and the banks funding the building of eight identical maxi yachts have decided to postpone the event. No new date has been.

The brainchild of the Swiss ocean racer Pierre Fehlmann, the race was seen as a rival to the Whitbread, the seventh of which starts from Southampton in September 1997. Fehlmann planned to charter the yachts to syndicates, but only two syndicates, one from his long-time backer Philip Morris and one from Nicorette, have signed.

The income from these two syndicates was not enough to cover the continued building of the fleet of yachts, in what was a job creation project at the moribund shipyard of La Ciotat, between Marseille and Toulon. Work will continue on the first four boats, but not the remaining three hulls which have been moulded.

While Whitbread, which has rejected a merger, did not want to comment, there was clear relief at the race headquarters near Southampton. It will also mean less competition for attention for the amateur round the world voyage, the BT Global Challenge, which also starts in September.