Bernard Stamm prepares to defend his title as winner of the Around Alone - now known as the Velux 5 Oceans 18/10/06

Bernard Stamm is gearing himself up to defend his title as winner of the Around Alone, the previous edition of the race now known as the Velux 5 Oceans Race, which starts on Sunday 22 October, in Bilbao.

Stamm, 45, who won four of the five legs of the previous race, and in doing so set two speed records – for the fastest passage from England to South Africa in an Open 60 (29 days, 21 hours, 59 minutes, 45 seconds) and singlehanded Atlantic Open 60 record (10 days, 11 hours, 55 minutes, 19 seconds) – looks set to be a strong contender in a fleet battling for the podium in the world’s toughest sporting event.

The 2006-7 Velux 5 Oceans Race is set to be the hardest ever solo round-the-world race, with longer legs, fewer stopovers, and a total mileage of 30,000 miles.

Stamm’s life has been linked with the sea since the age of two, lake-sailing with his parents in Switzerland, then a brief career in the Swiss merchant navy followed by a period as boatbuilder and cruising boat skipper. A conviction that he “was born to be at sea” was confirmed during his spectacular and successful single-handed racing debut in the Mini class during the mid-1990s.

With drive and determination that has become a trademark, Stamm juggled his Mini Transat racing campaign with building a Pierre Rolland-designed Open 60 for the 2000-2001 Vendée Globe, non-stop, solo, round the world race. Faced with a near impossible schedule, the boat’s construction programme overran and Stamm was forced to retire from the Vendée in the early stages through autopilot failure. This scale of disaster would devastate many skippers, but Stamm – joined by a small team – sailed immediately to New York and, after waiting for a suitable weather window, scorched across the North Atlantic setting two new records: the crewed transatlantic time (8d 20h 55m 35s) and the crewed monohull 24 hour speed record (467.1 miles).

In the last edition of the Velux 5 Oceans Race, Stamm stormed around the planet winning four of the five legs in Class 1, gaining immense respect from fellow competitors through his fearless ability to sail on the absolute limit of endurance for an entire circumnavigation.

Powering his Open 60 around the planet exacted a heavy toll and Stamm was forced to make a swift pit stop in the Falkland Islands during Leg 4 when critical canting keel problems struck shortly after rounding Cape Horn: a brief diversion that would not rob the unstoppable skipper from taking line honours at the end of the leg in Brazil.

A series of intense depressions swept through the Open 60 fleet in early June 2004 during The Transat race, dismasting two of the leading boats and causing a dangerous crisis for Stamm as his keel detached completely, inverting the yacht 400 miles from the coast of Newfoundland. Through co-ordination with MRCC Halifax, the skipper was plucked from his stricken yacht by the crew of a tanker and taken to St John’s, Newfoundland, where – within a matter of hours – Stamm boarded an ice breaking tug and began planning a salvage operation. After a three-day, mid-Atlantic search, skipper and yacht were reunited and, in typical style, Stamm volunteered to make the dangerous dive beneath the boat to cut away the mast and rigging.

Two years and a total refit later, Cheminées Poujoulat is ready for the race once again. As soon as the docklines are dropped in Bilbao, Stamm will race to win, whatever the cost.