Knox-Johnston was jovial as he set off on his final ever leg of a single-handed round the world race 19/4/07

After 26,400 miles of sailing single-handed round the world in the Velux 5-Oceans yacht race, Sir Robin Knox-Johnston has just 3,500 miles to go. He started the race on Saga Insurance back in October and yesterday began the final sprint across the Atlantic to Bilbao, Spain and is expected to finish at the end of April.

In exceptionally busy waters, dodging outbound US warships and an inbound submarine, the third and final leg is finally underway after a delay of three days due to hurricane force winds. Sir Robin Knox-Johnston crossed the line at 1220 local time (1720 GMT) in fourth place. The fleet of Open 60s tacked several times in Chesapeake Bay in north-east winds of 17 knots, before heading out to sea when the wind turned more northerly.

Before leaving the dock, the skippers and crews held one minute’s silence in memory of the recent shootings in Virginia. Sir Robin commented, “The recent events are tragic, and our sympathy goes to all of those families and friends involved in it. It is one of those awful things that occasionally happens.” When asked how he had been treated locally, he said, “Norfolk has been great, it’s been a delightful place to come to. The people are very friendly, they’ve got everything you could want here, so we’ve thoroughly enjoyed the stopover.”

Sir Robin was in his usual focused but buoyant mood when he rang one hour into the race to thank Jim Dixon, the Norfolk Stopover Operations Director for all his help and securing a nice, safe start to the final leg. The fleet was also followed by a Merlin helicopter lent to the race by HMS Ocean, the UK warship that had hosted the teams earlier in the week.

Sir Robin is fighting to finish on the podium and needs to finish 1 day, 17 hours and 58 minutes ahead of his nearest rival Unai Basurko, to secure third place.

When asked if he still felt competitive and hungry, he said: “Oh absolutely, why else would you race? Otherwise I’d go cruising. I came here to race, it’s simple. This is my last single-handed round the world race and I hope to enjoy it, even though the last legs have been pretty frustrating. So it hasn’t been as enjoyable as it could have been. Hopefully this leg will be different. I’ve got to come in ahead of Unai, it’s not just a question of coming in before him, I need to be well ahead of him. So it’s silly to make predictions, you don’t know what the weather will do, whether it will fall your way or not. The weather is interesting now. There’s nothing dirty out there. We’ll be reaching for the first few days and we’ll see how it develops after that.”

So what could give him the edge over Unai? Robin replied: “Saga Insurance is a fast reaching boat. If we are reaching, I ought to be taking him, if not, I’ll probably get worried.”