Stuart Alexander: People's champion is living his dream

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From restoring old cars to restoring an old racing yacht and then sailing (no, make that racing) it solo, non-stop round the world, Steve White has more than lived up to a billing that described him as living a dream. While all the big-ticket competitors were signing autographs and smiling into television cameras at the start of the Vendée Globe, the 36-year old from Weymouth was working flat out in solitary splendour on the public quay. Three of his four children, Jason, Isaac and Euan, and wife Kim were on hand to watch and work; the fourth, Eryn, was at home in Dorchester studying for GCSEs. Money was tight, time was short, and the first hurdle was to make the start line on time. The finish line was just an unlikely dream. Still wielding spanners and screwdrivers, he made it, though the repair toolbox was to be his constant companion.

The boat started life as Gartmore in 1998. As Pindar it completed the Around Alone race in 2002-03 in the hands of Emma Richards, and it started life for this Vendée as Spirit of Weymouth. Then, as no naming-rights sponsor came forward, it carried the name of the Toe in the Water charity, which uses sailing to help injured servicemen and women to rehabilitate and was chosen by private backers. He has repaid their faith in him in spades. Nearly two-thirds of the fleet failed to make the finish and big names were tumbling almost daily, but White had his head down, mending sails, losing one overboard, putting out a fire in the battery box, stopping the generator from going walkabout, fixing the mainsail boom when it parted from the mast, and cannibalising two autopilot systems with broken hydraulic rams to make them work.

All that in some of the worst seas and winds in one of the most desolate parts of the planet. And keeping body and soul together has been porridge. White is a vegetarian. "If you had told me before the start that I'd be in eighth place at any point I'd have said you were mad," said White. "It's more than 10 places better than my wildest dreams."

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