Swell party sends off fleet

Stuart Alexander sees 14 yachts begin their global race in testing conditions
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It's a long way from Cape Horn, and the Southern ocean is a lot more hostile, but the Solent gave a testing start to the 14 yachts in the BT Global Challenge yesterday. With the south-westerly breeze at a steady 25 knots and gusting a dozen more, a depleted spectator fleet was given a small taste of what the amateur crews paying nearly pounds 19,000 each to go round the world may be facing over the next nine and a half months.

While the lead changed several times over the first few miles past Cowes, Wales' Merfyn Owen was ruing a 10-second miscalculation which would cost his crew on Global Teamwork a penalty punishment of an hour.

He was over the line at the start off Gilkicker, just to the west of Portsmouth, and the nature of the offence invoked a rule which required him to stay for an hour near the Needles Fairway buoy at the western end of the Solent, and then do two complete turns of the yacht before continuing out of the English Channel and down through the Bay of Biscay to a turning mark off Portugal and on to Brazil.

There was a tactical game to be played as the fleet had to tack its way across the Solent in a zig-zag, putting the boats through more manoeuvres in the first two hours than they may do in several days at sea. With the tide turning against the wind and piling up the waves, oilskins, safety harnesses and life-jackets were the order of the day. The sail area was reduced to a small main and two small head sails, and soaking spray was being whipped over the decks.

First to overtake the flying Owen was South Africa's Boris Webber on Courtaulds International, but it was second-time contender Mike Golding, skipper of Group 4, who won the prize for being first through Hurst Narrows, just west of Lymington. Andy Hindley, a crewman in 1992-3, was just 11 seconds astern on Save the Children, with Webber in third.

The man considered the pre-start favourite by the bookies, Richard Tudor on Nuclear Electric, was eighth, but only eight minutes covered the whole fleet.