Australians Nick Moloney and Mike Sanderson are among the top ranked sailors lining up on the Transat startline tomorrow

They may both be two of only four countries ever to have won the America’s Cup over its 153 year history, but historically New Zealand and Australia have generated precious few top single-handed ocean racers.

This looks set to change through the participation of Nick Moloney and Mike Sanderson in the Open 60 class in The Transat. While the traditional French route into the ultimate solo sailing class is graduating up through smaller boats like the Figaro and Mini, both Moloney and Sanderson both have backgrounds in the elite realms of fully crewed racing – offshore in the Volvo Ocean Race and inshore in the America’s Cup.

Sanderson in particular has excelled in both disciplines, winning the 1993/4 round the world race as part of Grant Dalton’s New Zealand Endeavour crew and coming second with Dalton four years later. During the last America’s Cup he held the responsible position of mainsheet trimmer on Oracle BMW Racing making it to the final of the Challenger series. However, while he is one of the world’s top sailors when it comes to fully crewed racing, single-handing a boat of a size that he is more used to sailing with a crew of 13 presents an entirely new challenge.

In fully crewed racing each person on board has a specific role and their skills compliment others in the crew to form a team. Single-handing, the skipper is the team and must perform all the roles – steering, trim, manoeuvring the boat, navigating, doing the met, while at the same time finding time to sleep, eat and drink.

Sleep deprivation is usually the principle concern of those tackling solo offshore racing for the first time, but Sanderson doesn’t think this will be his main issue. “My problem will be sending myself to bed even though I am not really comfortable with how it is all going. What will be tough is when there is 40 knots of wind and you should be steering. But you aren’t going to make it if you drive all the way to Boston.”

His main fear is what his result will be. “I haven’t been lying awake about the sleep or the food. I worry about putting on a good show mainly for Pindar AlphaGraphics having put up the money and the guys who’ve been working all hours for this.”

For The Transat Sanderson has taken over the helm of the Open 60 Pindar Alphagraphics from Emma Richards. Winner of the 50ft class in the race four years ago, Richards has retired from single-handed ocean racing. She has been helping him with some of the techniques specific to solo offshore racing.

“I did the qualifier and I’ve done a couple of overnighters on my own and then we’ve done quite a lot where we’ve gone out with four of us but I do the manoeuvres on my own. Emma has taught me lots of things, but we are so different in size that we end up doing things differently.”

As to how he sees his performance in The Transat, Sanderson says Pindar Alphagraphics is narrower than the latest generation boat, but will have his day in the sun. “Lighter airs, downwind. It would be good for me if the race is tricky. If it is a power race or even if it is 30 knots downwind I am under no illusion that I am going to hang on with Bernard Stamm.”

Sanderson is also unique among the Open 60 sailors in The Transat that he is not taking part in the Vendée Globe. Instead he and Richards have teamed up and are 100 per cent focussed on getting the funding for a campaign for next year’s Volvo Ocean Race.

Nick Moloney is under equal pressure to Sanderson. While Ellen MacArthur now has a new 75ft trimaran for breaking ocean records, Moloney has taken over the reigns of her famous Vendée Globe boat Kingfisher. In MacArthur’s hands the boat had the most magnificent of track records – second in the Vendée, first in both The Transat four years ago and the single- handed Route du Rhum in 2002.

Compared to Sanderson, Moloney has now been sailing shorthanded for almost five years, since he acquired and then raced Ellen’s boat in the 1999 Mini Transat. On the Open 60 he scored a sixth in the Transat Jacques Vabre and a fifth place in the single-handed return race, the Defi Atlantique.

Over the winter Moloney’s team has been busy ‘turboing’ Skandia. The size of the headsails used on board have all been enlarged and they are now flying masthead spinnakers. Down below has been ‘de-Ellenised’ with more room to move around, a revised sleeping area and special paint job around his chart table area that mood specialists have told him will engender ‘calm’.

He says in the build-up to The Transat he has been out training against Sanderson and is impressed by the Kiwi’s speed. “He’s quick as… And he’s a very smart sailor and well supported. Mike has participated with it and he’s going to be very strong. And he is a very solid sailor – you can’t underestimate his capability.”

Among the Open 60s he thinks Ecover and Virbac will be the boats to watch while Sanderson will be the wildcard. “If it were an 18 hour race he’d stay awake, drive the whole way and kick all our butts. But he’s never done this before. The fatigue does funny things to your mind and how your body operates and the decisions you make, so it will be interesting to see how we go after five or six days. That will be the telling factor. It doesn’t take too many mistakes to break things and then you fall behind with downtime fixing things.”

As to why Australia and New Zealand have been so successful in some sides of yacht racing, but not this, Sanderson thinks this could again be as the budgets are of a scale that are unaffordable to New Zealand companies, while Moloney feels that having to move to Europe to race competitively puts off potential Australian competitors.