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HAMPSHIRE yachtsman Alex Thomson was sitting just outside the top five after the opening 48 hours of a solo round the world yacht race.

Gosport-based Thomson was in sixth position on Hugo Boss in the 19-strong Vendée Globe fleet, about 30 miles behind the leader Francois Gabart of France.

Mike Golding, from Warsash, was lying 9th and Hamble’s Sam Davies, the only woman competing in the 2012/13 event, was placed 15th, trailing Gabart by about 80 miles.

The Vendée Globe, considered by many to be sailing’s toughest challenge, set sail from the French port of Les Sables d’Olonne on Saturday in blustery, cold conditions typical of mid November.

The race sees the solo sailors race more than 24,000 miles around the planet without stopping, via the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Horn.

Golding, a veteran of three previous Vendée Globes and one of the oldest skippers at 52, said the first 48 hours of the race had been testing.

“It has been quite stressful,” he said. “There have been some nasty seas which we have been punching into.

“The wind is freeing now and the seas getting a bit better so that is good. I have had some sleep, eaten well and am feeling good for that. All is fine.”

Before the race had even started it claimed its first casualty when Frenchman Bertrand de Broc was forced to return to port to mend a hole in his boat caused by a collision with a powerboat driven by his own support team.

De Broc was back in action around 12 hours later, but fellow Frenchman Marc Guillemot was soon heading home with a broken keel, making him the first sailor to officially retire from racing.

Historically, the Vendée Globe has an attrition rate of between 40 and 60 per cent.

In the 2008/09 edition, only 11 of the 30 starting boats finished the race.

The fleet were last night racing out of the Bay of Biscay towards Cape Finisterre on the north-western tip of Spain, the first turning point of the race.