And then there were ...?

In the end, Ed Gorman watched five boats start The Race, written with Mark Chisnell

Sunday December 31st 2000, Author: Ed Gorman And Mark Chisnell, Location: United Kingdom
There have been plenty of moments when it seemed it wouldn't start at all, but in the end, The Race of the Millennium started and on time - 1400 local, 31st December, 2000. Five boats answered the gun in perfect conditions. A cloudless blue sky, flat water and about twelve or fourteen knots of north-westerly breeze - Bruno Peyron should have been grinning from ear to ear. Except that there should have been six - but more of that later.

The fleet ready to go, well, almost

It was quite a scene, hundreds of boats out, and thousands more people lining the beaches to watch. The cats had look-outs positioned on the wishbone forward, no one wanted to ruin their day by running over a spectator or two. And it all went off according to the script, with the skippers apparently happy to play their assigned roles.

At the leeward end, sensible Steve Fossett sat with PlayStation's grey Cuben-fibre mainsail reefed down. With a full main, but in line astern and not taking any chances on the line was Grant Dalton. To windward of PlayStation was Loick Peyron's Innovation Explorer, then Cam Lewis's Team Adventure and finally Roman Paszke's Polish entry, Polpharma Warta.

It's Cam Lewis who's down to play the go-for-it 'Yves Parlier' role, and duly obliged by hitting the gas and ripping off the line - sending it, as Grant Dalton was, I suspect, dryly observing. But Dalts wasn't content to sit around and watch Lewis take all the glory on the 18 mile parade laps. He cranked on the sheets and flew by PlayStation to windward and set-off in pursuit.

By the first mark it was Team Adventure, Polpharma Warta, Innovation Explorer, then Club Med. PlayStation were bringing up the rear, still reefed and looking like their main concern was to get out of there in one piece - which is, of course, very much Fossett's strategy for The Race. Lewis held his lead through to the last mark and was first out of the traps as the boats set off for the Straits of Gibraltar in earnest. By then Dalts and Club Med were right behind him, followed by the Poles, and - still content to play tortoise to Lewis' hare - PlayStation, then Innovation Explorer.

Unfortunately, the role of Tony Bullimore and Team Legato seems to be that of last minute, chaotic entrant. No one even appeared at the boat until an hour before the start, and they still had to comply with five or six of the safety regulations. After more reports of arguments amongst the remaining crewmen, it seems that there was a stand-off between Bullimore's long-time right-hand man, Frenchman Bernard Perrin, and the young British navigator, Jason Owen.

Apparently, Bullimore seems to have backed Owen and the latest talk is that Perrin and another Frenchman, Frank Martin have got off the boat. But Paul Larson, ex-Team Philips, is back on ... At the time of writing, Bullimore was still tied to the dock and although he is now reported to have complied with the other rules, Team Legato still has to do the last 150 of the 2,500 mile qualifier, then return to Barcelona and restart.

They weren't the only ones with last minute hiccups. At the start, Club Med were still refusing to give their spare medium air gennaker to Innovation Explorer. The word on the dock is that Bruno Peyron had told his brother, Loick - Innovation Explorer's co-skipper - that Dalton would give him the spare sail. Unfortunately, no one got around to asking Dalts about it until a few days before the off. Dalton didn't want to make the decision alone and referred it to a vote amongst his crew - who said no.

Those that did start have headed off into a generally west to north-west gradient, set-up between the huge low pressure pounding the British Isles (again) and a high pressure over North Africa. It looks like this pattern will stay in place for a couple of days, giving the fleet a good speed test as they reach down the Spanish coast, before turning the corner at Almeria and heading west to be first through the Straits and into open water.

But a couple of hours after the start, there were already reports that Roman Paszke's Polish team had broken battens. Down to four by Gibraltar? But the main event is still on - Team Ollier versus PlayStation.

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