Sailing:Slow boat to the Fastnet

Andrew Preece joins the crew of the fastest yacht of a prestige race
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The Independent Online
THE TALK of Cowes Week among the Kingfisher crew had been the weather, particularly whether or not the winds would co-operate to give us a chance to break the record for the Fastnet Race. They haven't yet.

I have joined the crew of the Formula One trimaran Kingfisher, which has been chartered by the Ellen MacArthur Vendee Globe Challenge campaign partly as a promotional billboard for Skandia Life's sponsorship of Cowes Week and partly as an ocean-training vehicle for MacArthur.

She is co-skipper with Yvan Bourgnon and is being coached by him and his brother Laurent. They will be providing instruction in sailing an over-canvassed rocket ship as close to the limit as possible, without crossing the line between on-the-edge exhilaration and the kind of disaster that would necessitate a mid-ocean helicopter rescue.

MacArthur is preparing herself for the non-stop single-handed round-the- world Vendee Globe Challenge which starts next November. At 23, she acknowledges that she has much to learn in the art of driving boats hard for days on end, so she has built a number of training sessions into her programme.

We started on time at seven o'clock last night. The Four Formula One multihulls were the first to go in a light south-westerly breeze. It was painful progress down The Solent and out through The Needles as we coaxed the trimaran along in virtually no wind. I think we were all relieved to get away from the melee at Cowes and in to our first night at sea - particularly as the starts for most of the classes behind us were postponed due to a lack of wind.

The outright record for the 605-mile Fastnet course is one day 20 hours and 44 seconds. It was set by Kingfisher - then named Primagaz and skippered by Laurent Bourgnon - the last time the race was run in 1997. The forecast suggests the time is beatable. We were told by our weather experts that we could expect strong easterly winds today, backing round to the north- east tonight and increasing to up to force seven.

That would be ideal and a good thing for me because the comforts on this boat are non-existent. The accommodation consists of a flat cushion the width of a modest double bed. As for MacArthur, the opportunity to mix with these French stars of ocean sailing will be worth every minute.

But it is frustrating waiting for the low-pressure system hanging off Cornwall to track North and squeeze the isobars that will give us the breeze we need to get this show properly on the road. Soon we hope.

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