Hampshire trio ready for marathon of the seas

MIKE GOLDING

MIKE GOLDING

First published in Sport

Three British sailors hoping to win the Vendee Globe solo non-stop around the world race were today making their last-minute preparations.

Mike Golding, 52, from Southampton, Alex Thomson, 38, from Gosport, Hampshire, and Sam Davies, 38, - the only female entrant - originally from Hayling Island, Hampshire, all said they were ready to set sail in the 25,000-mile circumnavigation - dubbed the marathon of the seas.

There are now only 48 hours before the start on Saturday at the French port of Les Sables d'Olonne.

There are 20 sailors taking part from six different countries, with the French the biggest group with 12, followed by Britain.

First prize is 160,000 euro (£115,000) but no one is doing it for the money.

The Vendee is the ultimate test of human endurance with on average only half the boats ever making it back to Les Sables.

Two sailors have lost their lives since the race started in 1989 and several others have been lucky to survive.

Conditions at the start are likely to be challenging, but this will not stop an estimated 250,000 people lining the port and seafront to wave the skippers off as sailing in France is a big draw.

The British challenge is headed by Thomson who is sailing in Hugo Boss. He has a reputation for speed but has not yet finished a Vendee after two previous attempts. This time he is saying he is prepared.

"This is a race of attrition - the hardest sporting challenge in the world," he explained.

"The objective is to finish the race. Having put 10 years of my life, my family's life and my team and sponsor's lives into it there is a real responsibility to finish.

"But, of course, if you finish you have a chance of winning this race."

Cambridge graduate Davies is now based in France, is French-sponsored and will be sailing in Saveol.

Davies, who has a one-year-old son Ruben, is hoping to better the fourth place finish in the last race.

"We are ready to go," she said. "I don't have as many miles under my belt but I do have the experience of finishing the last Vendee Globe, "That's something you can't buy. Even the richest team can't buy that experience, and that's very important."

The final Briton is veteran Mike Golding, who is starting his fourth Vendee in his boat Gamesa.

The former firefighter has finished the race twice and twice been in the lead before technical problems ended his challenge. Undaunted, he says this is his last attempt at victory.

"I'm quietly confident but I will not be doing another Vendee after this one," he explained.

"I have been very lucky to have had four cracks at the race and I could not resist the opportunity to go again when it came around.

"I think we are better prepared for this edition than for the previous ones and experience is very important.

"I think a podium finish is realistic and a win is possible."

The French have so far dominated the race, winning all six previous competitions, with Michel Desjoyeaux the 2008/09 winner.

The Vendee, which is run every four years, catapulted Dame Ellen MacArthur to fame in 2001 when she came second in the race. So far she is the most successful Briton.

The winning circumnavigation should take less than 90 days, with the sailors tested to the limit, sleeping in snatches of 20 minutes as they first battle the Atlantic, then the iceberg-strewn Southern Ocean and round Cape Horn, before struggling back through the Atlantic to the finish at Les Sables.

Each skipper in their 60ft yacht has email, satellite phone and radio as contact with the outside world but they cannot stop to seek outside assistance. This year high definition TV images will be broadcast from the boats as they sail.

The objective is simple: the first one back wins.

Other skippers in the competition are from Italy, Switzerland, Spain and Poland.

The winner should arrive back at Les Sables d'Olonne sometime in February next year.

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