Sailing: Frenchmen set off at rare pace

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The Independent Online
TWO 60-FOOT French trimarans were threatening to set a fast time in the 610-mile Fastnet Race last night after covering the first 410 miles from Cowes to the rock and lighthouse off the south-west of Ireland in just a few minutes over 19 hours. Britain's hope, Ellen MacArthur, was left frustrated in their wake.

Alain Gauthier in Broceliande II was three minutes ahead of Loick Peyron in Fujicolor, and the astonishing time came as no surprise to Peyron. Before the start he said: "I think it could be quite a fast time, not so fast in the beginning and the end perhaps, but looking quite fast in the middle. I am taking the brown trousers."

Those who thought Saturday evening's start looked slow underestimated the slingshot to come as the 215 yachts picked up a stiff easterly wind. But in the early hours of yesterday morning, as Gauthier and Peyron wriggled away, those behind suffered. With Laurent and Yvan Bourgnon alongside her in Kingsfisher, which as Primagaz set the existing multihull record for a 630-mile course in 1997, MacArthur sat becalmed for nearly six hours.

"We had a fantastic run overnight, averaging 22 knots at times," she said as she struggled to catch up in the 7-8 knot south-easterly. "It's not over yet, and 100 miles in these multi-hulls is not much. We're a bit down from being so far behind and I am very tired. I want some sleep."

Others were also reporting problems. Guido Maisto in the Italian Maxi One Design qualified for the South-West Shingles Yacht Club by hitting the notorious bank near the Needles and having to retire. Last night, Ross Field had a 20-mile lead over Ludde Ingvall in a fleet now reduced to six as Sweden's Gunnar Krantz pulled out before the start. Franck Camass retired into Plymouth in his 60-foot trimarans Groupama with all mainsail battens broken.