"Conditions are pretty atrocious," reports crew from Open 60 Spirit of Weymouth 14/8/07

Steve White and David Melville are [this morning] currently approaching Land’s End in the Rolex Fastnet race. According to Louay Habib who’s been in touch with the team aboard Open 60 Spirt of Weymoputh, conditions are pretty atrocious, already there is over 30 knots of wind, a building sea state and torrential rain.

Many of the fleet have decided not to go into the Irish Sea at all and are heading for Plymouth. Below is the first report from Peter Zimonjic, media correspondent on board Spirit of Weymouth; Steve White skipper of Spirit of Weymouth, comments from the race course:

“The Open 60 fleet is the most competitive and technologically advanced fleet to enter the race. All but one of the 16 or so boats in the Open 60 fleet operate with a million dollar budget, with virtually unlimited resources, with the most high profile sponsors such as Hugo Boss or rich European banks. My boat, The Spirit or Weymouth, is the only such boat in this race to be sailing without a sponsor.”

Owner and Captain of this 60ft, two-man boat, is Steve White, a 34-year-old father of four from England who has mortgaged his house four times and maxed out his credit at the bank in the hopes of proving his determination, sailing prowess and enthusiasm in the hopes of winning a sponsor to fund his boat to enter the toughest race of them all: The Vendée Globe 2008, a non stop, single handed around the world race. The Everest of the sailing world.

But for now Steve and his friend and co-captain on this year’s Fastnet, David Melville must prove the have ‘bottle’. As a silent observer I am uniquely placed to watch these men stretch their strength to the limit to remain awake for the three days it takes to round the Irish Lighthouse, to see them battle the elements and their competitors, not to mention Steve’s personal debts, to achieve a dream.

Their day began by being forced into last place not long after the 1100, the million dollar dreamers sailing off ahead of them. Undeterred, the pair, who are long-time friends and sailing companions, work tirelessly in 18 knot winds and battering waves to squeeze every inch they can out of their 10-year-old boat.

I ask them why, what it is that motivates them to work so hard to keep apace in the race that is surely predetermined to be at the rear. “The Open 60 is the formula one of yacht racing,” David Melville explains. “If you want to race formula one you can either talk about it or you can scrape money together and run a car at the back of the pack and hope someone notices you and gives you money. It’s not perfect but it’s better than talking about something you might do, one day, if you get the money.”

As they cleared the Solent and made their way towards the north coast of France in the hopes of catching favourable wind the stiff morning breeze. When the evening rolled around the wind began to die the crew took the chance to eat a dinner of pasta and pesto. They said: “it may be the last mean we get in any kind of comfort, the British Coast Guard has issued a worrying storm warning.”

Any sailor who hears such a warning during the Fastnet cannot but help think of the disaster of 1979 when boats were abandoned at sea and 15 sailors lost their lives in a powerful gale.