Sailing: Golding flies flag for the minnows

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The Independent Online
THE FANFARE for The Common Man played loud and long through Saturday night after Mike Golding surfed into Cape Town on the 60-foot Team Group 4 to win the first leg of the Around Alone race from Charle-ston.

It was a smack in the face for the French dominance of single-handed ocean racing and a big win in a seafaring rivalry that stretches back hundreds of years.

The significance was not lost on Golding, who beat the French at their own game, using French kit, proving that a journeyman sailor, well funded and well supported, can put together a first division campaign.

Nor was it entirely palatable to one of the pre-race favourites, Isabelle Autissier, who had to be content, by two hours and 40 minutes, with being second on a 6,800-mile leg she won by over five days last time.

"I think it is very important for the class to see the English and Italians come in with good boats," she said, adding, "We need an open competition, but only for the first leg. After that I would like to be back in front. But Mike did very well, he has a fast boat."

Golding knows that, but rejects any notion that it was pure boat speed advantage that brought him his first big win at top level. "The reason I won was because I was in the right place at the right time," he said, referring to a decision to stay on the right-hand side of the fleet and go for a band of low pressure zone wind which provided a fast corridor between two high pressure zones for the last, and crucial, 1,000 miles.

"I was there because I wanted to be there," he explained. "Just look what happened to Josh Hall in Gartmore. He is quick too and was always in touch. Then I went right, he went left and got it wrong in the end."

Hall is not due to arrive until late today, by which time Golding and his shore crew will be deep into a long list of jobs to do in preparing the boat for the second leg through the southern ocean to Auckland. Changes will include the fitting of a diesel generator and a new downwind sail.

But another major change will be psychological. Golding knows that his other main rival, Italy's Giovanni Soldini, has made a major tactical blunder on this leg which will see him at least three days behind. "He could still do well on the remaining legs and he has twice posted the biggest daily runs, but, in the overall picture, I think it is done for him," said Autissier.

The change of name to Team Group 4 has special significance for both Golding and the man who backs him, Philip Sorensen, the head of the security company. "Every time they come ashore I feel relieved. I like to see others succeed and I am emotional if someone wins. It moves me," says Sorensen. "It has been a privilege to be part of Mike's evolution."

The shore crew comes in for high praise from both. Not a group of rock stars, but a very steady group who give Golding the sort of respect and comfort denied him when he entered the much more back-stabbing world of the Admiral's Cup in 1995.

Golding knows it was as much McLaren helping Mika Hakkinen as Hakkinen helping McLaren that secured the Formula One world championship and he is now benefiting from a lot of experience. "Someone asked me how I had beaten Isabelle as she is such a weather genius," he said. "I replied: `well, I have been practising'." And there could be more to come.