Sailing: Blake's quest to conquer the world: Stuart Alexander on an Anglo-New Zealand attempt to enter sailing's history books

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The Independent Online
EVEN the urbane Phileas Fogg may have been a little awestruck in the yachting village of Hamble this week as Peter Blake, the winner of the 1989-90 Whitbread Round the World Race, talked passionately of his 1993 project, to sail around the world in 80 days.

Starting on 15 January and choosing to stay north of the worst southern ocean weather, Blake will need to average about 14.5 knots over the 27-28,000 miles and he hopes to average 350 to 400 miles a day as he sweeps from the Cape of Good Hope to Cape Horn on the blustery winds that girdle the southern hemisphere.

Enshrouded in a makeshift polythene tent is the boat, to be named Enza, which he and the co- skipper, Robin Knox-Johnston, hope will not only achieve what has never been achieved before but capture the Jules Verne Trophy on offer for the first voyager to break the 80-day barrier. The present record stands at 109 days.

The initial opposition comes from one of the more maverick characters in the Gallic yachting firmament, Olivier de Kersauson. He at least has his 92-foot trimaran up and running thanks to considerable sponsorship from Charal, one of France's biggest meat companies now controlled by Raul Gardini, the exiled Italian businessman who put together the Il Moro di Venezia America's Cup syndicate.

Blake is sure that De Kersauson's bid would break the rules of the event because it would use outside assistance in the form of weather-routing information. But as they both plan to start on the same day, the rivalry is unavoidable.

There is even the added spice that the sponsor of the Anglo- New Zealand challenge is Enza, the New Zealand Apple and Pear Marketing Board. New Zealand apple growers accuse the French of a protectionist policy, and British apple growers have little love for the French.

Which is just another incentive for the 25-strong workforce to finish the catamaran, designed by Nigel Irens but previously campaigned as Formule Tag, which has been stretched to 85 feet, has a 42ft beam, a new rig, lightened by 50 per cent, new sails and mid- ships pod for navigation and dry watch-keeping.

The cooking and sleeping areas are still in the main hulls, which have been adapted to take water ballast. One luxury is a cockpit stereo system loud enough to drown out the frightening noises as the giant mantis tops 30 knots.

Blake and Knox-Johnston are taking only four other crew members plus a photographer likely to be pressed into catering. Ed Danby, Don Wright, David Alan- Williams and Paul Standbridge have all been in the southern ocean before, but even they may grow tired of freeze-dried noodles to make up an intake of 4,500 to 5,000 calories a day.

The start line is from the Lizard to Ushant and Enza's launch party is scheduled for just four days before the start. So, even in Medemsly Road, Consett, the workforce will have more time off over Christmas.