ONE of the three Hampshire skippers contesting the Vendee Globe round the world solo yacht race has been forced to retire after her boat was dismasted.

Samantha Davies, the only woman in the 20-strong fleet, suffered the fatal blow to her race hopes at 6.45pm last night while around 130 miles off Madeira in 40 knot winds and waves up to four metres high.

Davies, from Hamble, was not injured aboard her 60ft boat Saveol in the incident.

“I'm fine - I was inside the boat when it happened,” the 38-year-old said this morning. “The boat's a bit injured but I'm fine.”

Davies revealed that she had been preparing to make her mainsail smaller after a vicious rain squall just before nightfall last night when the incident occurred.

“I was just getting my foul weather gear on as the wind was dropping,” she said.

“The boat jumped off a couple of waves and that's when I heard the impact [of the mast falling down].

“The boat came back upright and there was no more wind in the rigging and everything was flapping around.”

Wearing a survival suit, Davies had to go on deck to cut the mast free of the boat.

Meanwhile, race organisers informed France's Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre who in turn released an urgent notice to all vessels within 200 miles of Davies' position.

One of Davies’ fellow Vendee skippers, Warsash’s Mike Golding, said he was “absolutely gutted” to hear the news.

“The whole team here is absolutely gutted for Sam,” he said.

“She's a real inspiration for girls to see her compete on the same level as the men and competitively.

“Most importantly, though, she's safe and well.”

Gosport's Alex Thomson added: “Really sad to hear of Sam's dismasting this morning, such a shame to see one of the Brits out so early. Very glad she's safe and well.”

Davies, the fourth skipper to retire from the 24,000-mile race since it started from France on Saturday, is now headed to Madeira where she will be joined by her shore crew.