Sanderson's prayer for calm seas

Stuart Alexander meets the vicar who is about to swap his cassock for oilskins
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There will be a little extra urgency and feeling to some of the prayers being said in the next few weeks at a quiet village church in Essex. They are for a man who has a stone statuette of a pig at his front door to remind him of a former life, and who is about to become one of the more unlikely men to don an England shirt and do battle against Scotland, Wales, Ireland and France.

Not Five Nations rugby this time, but the first Teacher's Round Britain Challenge, which pits two-boat teams from each of the five countries to sail against each other in a 2,000-mile slog around Britain and Ireland.

Exchanging his dog collar and cassock for oilskins and wellington boots will be the local vicar of Newport, Scott Sanderson, a 52-year-old sometimes irreverent sailor, who has little or no racing experience.

Usually he "poodles and wallows about" in his own little yacht, called Maplin Maid, but now he will be one of those in peril on the sea during the four legs of a race that will take him from Southend to Cardiff, to Rothesay, to Hartlepool and back to Southend.

To his great surprise, Scott was picked from nearly 4,000 who applied from all over the United Kingdom, Ireland and France for one of the six places on each boat. Now he is waiting to see which England skipper he will join; Vivien Cherry, who cut her teeth as boss of a British Steel boat in the wrong way round the world race, or David Alan-Williams, who partnered Sir Peter Blake in his 74-day round the world record and was one of the design team for New Zealand's America's Cup victory.

"It was all a bit tongue in cheek originally," says Scott, a happy-go- lucky character who was introduced to sailing 14 years ago when at theological college. "I was seasick every day, but took to it hook, line and sinker, though I probably applied for this race thinking it wouldn't happen anyway."

Now, as well as giving sermons from the pulpit, he pumps iron at Wilbur's Gym in Saffron Walden twice a week in a bid to improve his fitness, but says he tries to avoid too much sweat and heave. And he is going to have to find a cure for that seasickness. "I am usually sick for the first three days and after that I'm all right, I can drink diesel," he says, adding: "I'm going have to see my doctor and get pilled up."

But Cape Wrath at the top of Scotland holds no fears, and he has barely had time to think about the treacherous, rocky coast that he will both hug and hate for two weeks of hard racing, day and night, one mile for each of his parishioners.

Describing himself as an all-rounder, he hopes to bring the additional skills of fixing engines and machinery, learned after he left school at 15 and went into farming. He ended up managing three pig farms, but then decided he should switch from trough to cloth, from swineherd to shepherd.

So will he be super competitive, hungry to win for England? At first he is not sure, but then claims that much of his work requires standing up and defending a position. "And I preach quite aggressively," he says.

Mostly, he is just happy to grab what he thinks is a marvellous opportunity. "I don't know how long I'll be about and I meet so many people who are miserable old bats," he says, adding quickly: "Not my parishioners, of course."

They have been supportive, and his wife, Pauline, despite now missing out on a planned summer holiday, says: "I shall just be praying that the Lord keeps him safe - and also that he wins."

Scott himself will be taking his bible along with him as reading material, hoping that it will not become too soggy. He will also be taking a little indulgence in the form of a bag of Mars bars, hoping his skipper will turn a blind eye.

"I'm a very boring character really," Scott says. And what is the next project if he completes this one successfully? "I've always wanted to go sky-diving."