At 67-years-old Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, the oldest competitor in the fleet, set off today for the start of the Velux 5 Oceans Race 22/10/06

Demonstrating that age is not a barrier to competing at the highest level, 67-year old Sir Robin Knox-Johnston began the epic Velux 5 Oceans single-handed yacht race today at 1300 in Bilbao, Spain.

Sailing aboard ‘Saga Insurance’, he is the oldest skipper in the fleet of highly competitive top-flight sailors, but also the most experienced and determined to prove that he is a serious race contender.

“I didn’t enter this race just to participate,” said Sir Robin this morning as he prepared for the start of the ultimate challenge. “People often think that life winds down for the over 50s, but this simply isn’t true – life is for living – months of preparation, hard work and anticipation, I can’t wait to get out there and start racing.”

The average age of the sailing legend’s eight race rivals is 41; an impressive 26 years his junior, but when asked about his age Sir Robin insists “this is the best time to go.”

In 1969 he became the first person ever to sail solo and non-stop round the world, but offshore yacht racing has changed dramatically over the last 37 years. When asked which technological advancement he believes will make the most difference to his life on the water this time around, Sir Robin said: “In a word: speed. I will be going a hell of a lot quicker this time round!”

The pioneering solo circumnavigation that ensured Sir Robin a place in maritime history took 312 days aboard Suhaili, a 32ft Bermudan Ketch. But staggering developments in the efficiency and design of performance racing yachts means he aims to beat this time by around 200 days. He intends to complete the formidable three-leg race round the world race in approximately 112 days aboard his Open 60 ‘Saga Insurance’.

In terms of communications at sea, the existence of satellite technology, harnessed by sophisticated onboard communications systems, will make an “enormous difference” during the tough weeks and months ahead.

“There were no satellites last time I went round,” said Sir Robin. “I had radio contact once a week but that broke after two months so my only interaction with the outside world for eight and a half months was being sighted from the shore or passing another ship. Now it’s got to the stage where it will be more like being a racing car driver, because I will be in constant communication with the outside world.”

This ability to communicate with the world while racing solo across the wildest and most remote waters on the planet will also facilitate another major advantage of offshore sailing in the 21st century – accurate weather data.

“In 1969, my weather forecasting system consisted of a barometer from the wall of a pub, the wind direction and the clouds – I never knew what was coming until it hit me. Now the forecast can be delivered regularly, enabling us to predict where best to position the yacht to maximise progress in the most favourable conditions.”

Accurate GPS navigation systems and electronic instruments will replace the faithful sextant. One aspect, however, will remain the same for both circumnavigations.

“I don’t know exactly how this boat will behave in really large seas in the Southern Ocean, but then again, I didn’t know how Suhaili would perform until I got down there either, so in that way this will be a very similar experience,” said Sir Robin. “I will be learning rapidly as we encounter various types of weather and you can expect to see me get faster and faster as the race progresses.”