The boat, Enza New Zealand, and its eight-man team will set off in pursuit of the Jules Verne Trophy on 4 January, weather permitting. Knox-Johnston believes that after renovations Enza is the fastest ocean-going sailing boat ever built and he thinks he has the right crew to beat both the French opposition and the target time of 79 days, six hours, 59 minutes and 56 seconds.
The record was set in April when another French boat, Commodore Explorer, won the first Jules Verne race, its two rivals having survived less than a month. That was when Enza came off the worse from a collision with a piece of ocean debris and was forced to report in sick at Cape Town. The other boat, which was skippered by Olivier de Kersauson, who heads the opposition this time, had already done likewise.
So what chance survival? A lot better, it seems, after Enza's renovations. Besides the extra seven feet added to the catamaran's original 85ft, an extra layer, or 'impact skin', has been added to the hulls below the waterline to act as a bumper.
There is one other notable addition in the form of Angus Buchanan, a 23-year-old from Peterborough who happily admits that, with his comparative inexperience, he only made the crew through his remorseless pestering of Peter Blake, the co-skipper. Blake counters that it had already been decided to take one more man as the extra energy would keep the crew sharp in the home leg.
With the extra weight of Buchanan, his clothes and his 80 days' worth of food, Blake expects the French to go ahead from the start and then be slowly pegged back as their five-man team tires. Buchanan has yet to lose his round-the-world virginity and offsets his eagerness against his apprehension of 'crossing the line' (the Equator). For first-timers this means a traditional ceremony involving food slops, a mop and a severe haircut. 'Poor old Angus. Remember him as he is now,' a grinning Knox-Johnston said.
Nevertheless, Buchanan is awaiting the race with the frustrated excitement of a child awaiting Father Christmas. He anticipates fulfilling his fantasy of sailing round Cape Horn, he anticipates more of the team's excellent camaraderie, and he looks forward to the infamous bread-making of the crewman Don Wright. Everyone cooks and everyone bakes bread. Blake does a fine line in scones, but Wright - nicknamed Jaws because of his huge appetite - has made an art form of it. 'Most people will knead the bread for two minutes,' Blake said, 'but he'll go at it for half an hour and won't let us at it till it's perfect.'
'The race, though, is no gin-and- tonics-under-the-moonlight event,' Blake added, before listing numerous hardships and talking of the tiredness that will be with them permanently after the first week.
The worst crisis, however, will be a capsized boat - the catamaran cannot be arighted and was therefore designed so it could also be lived in upside-down. 'We'd just have to wait for a ship to come along,' Blake said. 'Hopefully it won't be a Taiwanese freight ship that's still going to be at sea for the next three months.'Reuse content