HAMPSHIRE'S Vendée Globe sailors have been reduced to three after Jonny Malbon was this week forced to abandon his dreams and quit, leaving just half of the original six Hampshire sailors still in the race.

Malbon, from Southampton, was left with no choice but to head for land after problems with the mainsail on his yacht Artemis Ocean Racing II became too serious to continue the 24,000-mile race.

His retirement leaves Dee Caffari, Sam Davies and Brian Thompson flying the flag for Hampshire.

Alex Thomson was forced to quit days into the race due to structural damage to his yacht Hugo Boss II while race veteran Mike Golding’s yacht Ecover 3 was dismasted on December 15 just hours after taking the lead.

Malbon, 34, said: “Gutted is probably the correct word, absolutely gutted.

“I can’t really say much more than that. It’s such a terrible feeling having come so far and having to pull out now but I know it’s the grown-up decision.

“I could have continued to the point when the mainsail becomes completely unusable, the only definite is that will happen, but we don’t know when.

“So there comes a point when you have to look at the rest of the year and try and focus on that. I’m headed north up to Auckland, where we’ll hopefully get onto a big container ship and shipped back to Europe.

“I keep second-guessing myself that I’ve made the right decision and checking that the main is terminal.

“I just wiped my hand across the sail and the laminate skin just flies off, the whole thing is on its last legs.”

Malbon, based at Ocean Village in Southampton, added: “It’s been a huge experience on many, many levels and I’ve really enjoyed it.

“That’s the gutting thing: the hard miles in my mind are behind me and the boat’s relatively unscathed apart from an issue we can’t control.

“I’ve learnt a lot from this race.

“But it’s also left me really hungry and already I see this as unfinished business.”

Davies, from Hamble, was yesterday leading the ‘Britpack’ in fifth position, with Thompson from Lymington in seventh and Titchfield’s Caffari in eighth.