This is an unashamedly commercial exercise with some big companies hanging a lot of marketing effort on to it, but there is also greater pressure on the skippers to win. Their crews know they are not trailblazing any more, the task they have set themselves is achievable. So the race element is stronger, more of the people taking part have previous sailing experience, and the bottom is that the race is simply more competitive.
Carrying the double burden of being favourite and skippering the boat which won last time is the Welshman Richard Tudor, a man with a mission to compensate for the bitter disappointment of the first race when he was dismasted on the second leg in the boat then expected to win, British Steel.
This time he is at the helm of Nuclear Electric and William Hill have made him the 2-1 favourite, though some of their other comparative assessments have a few people scratching heads. "This time the crews are more clued up," says Tudor, whose own prowess, particularly as a helmsman, has his rivals constantly looking over their shoulders. He sees that his job, apart from making sure that the mission is completed safely, is "to take the crew beyond their starting skills."
He feels he has not had the kind of additional budget which has been allowed to the man who is perceived to be his great rival, Mike Golding, the Group 4 skipper. Golding has put his crew into the Sunsail fleet of 36ft cruiser racers competing against each other, while Tudor has not even been able to call in the outside expertise of coaches or, particularly, weather routers.
Golding, who has also been backed by Group 4 through an Admiral's Cup campaign and a single-handed wrong-way- round record has, for the second time, been using one of Lawrie Smith's navigators, Vincent Geake, and will consult him at each of the stopovers, Rio, Wellington, Sydney, Cape Town and Boston, before each leg. The fifth from Cape Town to Boston could be the most difficult tactically.
His worry has been that others will find ways of receiving outside advice while the legs are being raced. None are allowed to have any special help, including customised computer analysis programmes, and some sort of gentleman's agreement has been reached, but it is actually impossible to police the rule. Any kind of code can be agreed for the everyday traffic between shore bases and boats which could include advice on which way to go to take best advantage of the weather systems.
For the crews on the 14 yachts, including the many disabled on Time and Tide skippered by James Hatfield, everything starts even today, including the butterflies in the stomach. The majority have signed up for the duration, others will be doing single legs as sponsoring companies involve their employees at every level from the boardroom to the production line.
There is also the head-to- head confrontation between Tudor and Golding and the others expecting to be breathing down their necks, including two other veteran skippers, Adrian Donovan on Heath Insured and Richard Merriweather on Commercial Union. Having been mate on Rhone-Poulenc last time, Simon Walker is given command of Toshiba and will be the dark horse they will all have to watch. Another to look out for will be the South African Boris Webber on Courtaulds, who is determined to be a hero in his own country.
Golding was second by just over an hour last time. "So I'm doing all this again just for the sake of 70 minutes," he said.Reuse content