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Fleet in Vendée Globe race sets sail

Text by AFP

Latest update : 2008-11-10

The daring sailors taking part in the round-the-world yacht race Vendée Globe set off from France's Atlantic coast on Sunday. The initial conditions - high winds, choppy water, and reduced visibility - already present a challenge.



The sixth edition of the Vendee Globe around the world race got underway at 1202 GMT here Sunday, with the 30-strong field being given an instant reminder of the numerous challenges ahead.

With wind at 15 knots, swells of between two and three metres and reduced visibility due to rain, choppy conditions met the field as they set off from the western French port for an epic journey which should last around 80 days.

Raced in single hull boats with no technical assistance, the four-yearly event - last held in 2004 and won by Frenchman Vincent Riou - has a number of top contenders bidding for one of sailing's most prestigious crowns.

Since its first edition in 1989 the sailing marathon has earned a reputation as being the ultimate endurance test - and one of the most dangerous races in the world.

Riou, of PRB, is aiming to become the first skipper to win two consecutive titles but he should be hard pushed by a handful of equally ambitious skippers, including compatriot and 2000-2001 champion Michel Desjoyeaux, of Foncia.

This year, the field will for the first time benefit from satellite technology, which will give electronic weather updates every 16 days.

"In 2004, we had radars ... this time the organisation has given us a satellite system to locate glaciers and to spot little icebergs at several dozen metres," said Riou, for whom icebergs will prove to be "one of the biggest threats".

"(The system) allows us to sail in the most dangerous places and will help  us to anticipate when to stop. It is also a security factor."

For saftey skippers must also pass through seven 'doors', which are designed to stop sailors straying too far off course.

Also challenging will be sailors such as Loick Peyron (Gitana Eighty), Roland Jourdain (Veolia), Jean Le Cam (VM Materiaux) and Jean-Pierre Dick (Paprec-Virbac), the reigning Barcelona World Race champion.

But honours do not always assure top finishes and a new breed of hopefuls - including Sebastien Josse, Bernard Stamm and English duo Mike Golding and Alex Thomson will also be pushing hard for victory.

Date created : 2008-11-09