Sailing: Briton storms world stage

Andrew Preece says Golding's solo sailing victory is a significant moment
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The Independent Online
WHEN Mike Golding arrived in Cape Town yesterday he took a first tentative step on to the platform of international grand prix racing success which he has been striving to reach for more than five years. Golding won the first leg of the Around Alone race in record time.

After nearly 34 days 18 hours 54 minutes and 44 seconds at sea Golding sailed his 60-foot Finot-designed Group 4 into Cape Town just 50 miles ahead of the Frenchwoman Isabelle Autissier and a further 35 ahead of the Frenchman Marc Thiercelin. In doing so he beat Autissier's record for this first leg from Charleston, in the United States to South Africa, which was set four years ago. There are three more legs to go in the race.

It has been anything but an easy victory for the Briton. Early in the leg the wrong tactical ploy saw Golding fall adrift of Autissier and Thiercelin in the North Atlantic. His problems looked like compounding themselves when the north-east tip of Brazil blocked his path into the South Atlantic while the leaders looked set to squeeze by.

But the last week has gone well for Golding as he picked the right route, sailed his boat fast and dropped off his fellow Briton Josh Hall in Gartmore Investment Management before easing into the lead a couple of days ago.

It has been a tricky week as the South Atlantic High has been erratically blocking the path of the leaders on their final approach to the finish and threatening a light-wind parking lot that would have turned the results inside out. As the leaders stormed down towards Cape Town at 13 knots, with Golding and Autissier neck and neck, the race's weather gurus predicted the "mushy, sprawling high" would create areas of "light winds in just about any direction" in the direct line to Cape Town.

The agonising decision for Golding was whether to add miles to try to sail around the threatening stop zone but in doing so risk seeing Autissier sail right through unhindered. Golding called it right, stuck with Autissier and the high fortuitously moved from their path. "At last," he said from Group 4 on Friday, "I have a small lead which may be possible to hang on to. Bit by bit the weather conditions did what they were supposed to and the high which had blocked our way has either gone under Cape Town or merged to the north. Whatever, the wind shift I have been waiting for came. Brilliant."

Golding's win will have satisfied him in many ways. His new boat has proven to be the equal of anything in the fleet and with a new design there are always anxious moments as the hardware is put to the test in the heat of competition. In addition, he has learned even during this first leg how to sail his idiosyncratic 60ft skimming dish and still been able to match sailors who have many more months and even years of experience in their similar boats. Even a week ago Golding was complaining of not being able to find the "groove" in certain conditions, the boat bucking the rider and giving him not just an uncomfortable ride but a slow one to boot.

There has never been any doubting the fact that Golding has the personal resolve to prevail at this level and yesterday he confirmed that the time he has spent with the weather guru Vincent Geake, navigator of Silk Cut, over the years has paid off and that all of the time he has spent learning grand prix racing has been worthwhile.

For Golding the true grand prix test will come in a couple of years time when he takes on the Premier League in the Vendee Globe Challenge, the single-handed non-stop race around the world.

In the meantime he and Group 4 have jumped the first hurdle in topping the first division and in doing so proved they are capable of jumping the rest. With one leg of four behind him the Around Alone Race has hardly started, but victory into Cape Town yesterday afternoon was a crucial point. Now Mike Golding knows he is capable of winning. And psychologically that may be the most important step.