Sailing: Autissier gambles way into history

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The Independent Online
In the early hours of yesterday morning, Isabelle Autissier, the 38-year-old from La Rochelle, became the first woman to win - by a handsome margin - a leg of the BOC singlehanded round-the-world race, steering her 60-foot Ecureuil Poitou Charentes 2 into Cape Town.

She had taken 36 days, eight hours, 52 minutes and 18 seconds to complete the first, 6,800-mile leg from Charleston, South Carolina, and despite many of her competitors being slowed by light winds, she beat by two days the time set from Newport in 1990 by Alain Gautier, also of France.

In second place by more than 1,000 miles is the American, Steve Pettengill, in Hunter's Child and he has a lead of about 200 miles on another Frenchman, Jean-Luc van den Heede in Vendee Entreprises. Autissier, whose Jean Berret- designed yacht features a swinging keel to compensate for the heel of the boat, gave weather reading as the main reason for having established such a big lead. She had gone north and east at the start to pick up a front which carried her through the doldrums, and turned south-east early for Cape Town.

'Sometimes you have to take risks when you're racing,' she told supporters in Cape Town. 'For the remaining three legs I will try to sail the same way.

Anything can happen with so many miles still to go.'

In a race which has seen both the leading British contenders drop out, Mark Gatehouse for personal reasons and Josh Hall when his boat was holed and taking on water, Giovanni Soldini's Kodak was leading David Adams's True Blue in class two. Simone Bianchetti, of Italy, was heading for Brazil with suspected delamination to the hull.