Tears as the skippers say their final goodbyes, and Mike Golding gets the biggest send-off

It has been an emotional morning watching the Vendée Globe skippers finally leave to go it alone. Some cried openly – Nick Moloney was in floods of tears as he said goodbye to his closest sailing friends – and others just managed to compose a bright face.

Mike Golding scraped into the latter camp and, in an odd way, it was all the more affecting to see him, watery eyed, holding back his feelings as hugged his baby son Soren and his two nephews and took a final glance at his mother. It really catches at you to see the strength of these sailors at a moment they’ve dreamed of but can never really prepare for.

Mike Golding’s send-off was a momentous occasion in another, more lasting sense. The largest gathering of press and supporters was for him and his departure was tinged with a very palpable sense that he is the lion king of this race. The British media have quite naturally focussed on him, but here was the evidence that in France, too, they view Golding as the man most likely to set a new highwater mark in sailing history and return as a hero.

The French have come out in their thousands to witness all this. Early this morning, Les Sables d’Olonne was filled with people streaming towards the waterfront for a vantage point. The banks on each side of the harbour entrance were filled completely with people as the yachts were towed out – the conservative estimate is that there are 300,000 spectators here today.