SAILING: Golding limping home after major keel trauma

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A "DEVASTATED'' Mike Golding was nursing his crippled yacht Ecover to the finish of the Vendee Globe round-the-world race last night having suffered the cruel luck of a catastrophic keel trauma with only 52 miles left of the 23,680-mile course.

It was mid-afternoon when Golding realised there was a problem as he was travelling upwind in stiff conditions. Using an endoscope to look under the hull, he confirmed that the three-and-a-half ton canting structure had broken off. He dropped the sails, filled both ballast tanks, and informed both his shore crew and the race directors, adding: "I'm OK at the moment, but I might not be.''

He was then able partially to hoist the sails and, despite reduced steerage in a breeze that was forecast to diminish, began moving forward again at about three knots.

The race director, Denis Horeau, decided against calling in the emergency services, and one of Golding's support boats was sent out as an escort, with a fast rescue craft on standby, and a helicopter overhead. Under the rules of the race, he is not allowed any outside help or he would be disqualified.

With a cushion of over 800 miles on the fourth-placed Sebastien Josse, Golding should secure his third place tonight. Australia's Nick Maloney and France's Roland Jourdain are already out due to keel problems and Britain's Conrad Humphreys, in ninth place, has a damaged keel.

Vincent Riou arrived off the coast of France late on Wednesday as the winner after covering the 23,680 miles in 87 days, 10 hours, 47 minutes and 55 seconds.

Elsewhere, Ellen MacArthur, having managed Thursday's weather without incident, was last night tackling the final 1,000 miles of her attempt to become the fastest solo sailor round the world. Yesterday's bulletin - in which she revealed she was "beyond exhaustion" - had her facing light winds, gales and rough seas and a final stretch that would be "very hard".

Before crossing the finish line off Ushant any time between Sunday and Tuesday, life for the 28-year old would be "like a Formula One car running on empty or a runner hitting the wall. These last miles are likely to be the toughest," said her shore team.

MacArthur herself said: "I can't believe what we [she and the boat] have been through. The wind was going round in circles. I am totally drained."