A round the world fleet of five is a disappointment, but a superb opportunity for the few skippers

Times are hard if you’re an aspiring ocean sailor trying to get sponsorship to fund a campaign. With so many companies laying off or scaling back employee pension schemes it’s not a great time to go cap in hand with the plan of sailing alone round the world, a highly specialist venture that runs a precipitously high risk of failure.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the Velux 5 Oceans. The four-yearly solo round the world race, which begins in La Rochelle on Sunday is well organised, has a great sponsor, a turnkey media programme, a class for low budget early generation Open 60s, lots of valuable benefits for entrants and prizemoney of €500,000. Yet despite all that it has struggled to muster just five skippers.

The reasons being pondered here on the dockside are complex – more on that later – but for the five who have made it to the start it’s an unparalleled opportunity to stand out and make their name.

Chris Stanmore-Major, 33 (above), is the only British skipper and has seized his chance to take a huge step up in a professional career. The former Clipper Round the World Race skipper was offered this opportunity by his boss Sir Robin Knox-Johnston after finish of the crewed race: sufficient private funding from a Chinese businessman to charter Sir Robin’s Open 60 Saga, refit her and get to the start.

Stanmore-Major will be an interesting one to follow. He finished 7th out of 10 in the Clipper race, where he says he was known as ‘a stern man with a ginger beard’.

I’m not too sure what to make of that, but CSM, as he’s known, certainly looks determined, very fit and wiry. As a trained motor mechanic and Outward Bound instructor he has an ideal background for patching things up and keeping things going.

It’s impossible to overestimate how important these skills are in a race such as this. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that the instinct to feel viscerally when something bad is about to happen or enough is enough, allied with the talent to be able to make do and mend almost anything is seamanship in a nutshell.

And this race is all about seamanship, stamina and self-discipline. It’s not about round the cans prowess; that won’t get you out of Biscay.

Chris Stanmore Major says: “My skill set isn’t lifts and shifts, it’s keeping on pushing for long periods of time and fixing things.”

Nonetheless he agrees that when you’ve come from racing with amateurs it can be hard persuading people that you have the right competitive credentials. “It is difficult. You can’t step up to, say, the Volvo Race; the skills are different,” he says.

He got the boat only eight weeks ago, and to date has logged 3,000 miles in her.

“I do feel out of my depth doing this and I did from day one. You just realise that you have stepped in to a different world and you don’t know the rules and you don’t know the history.”

But when I pick out ‘CSM’ I do so bearing in mind that the majority of Britain’s most successful and media savvy solo sailors have come up from exactly this background: Mike Golding, Dee Caffari, Conrad Humphreys and Steve White came from Challenge races; Alex Thomson was a winning Clipper skipper. This is not a coincidence.

It would be great if Chris Stanmore-Major could become the next in line. The odds are pretty good. In a fleet of five starters, finishing ought to earn you a podium place – fingers crossed.