Four years ago Ellen MacArthur was dreaming of her first Open 60 campaign...and look at her now

Four years ago, when I was in Les Sables d’Olonne for the start of the Vendee Globe there were just two British entries, Pete Goss sailing the smallest boat in the fleet, the 50ft Aqua Quorum and Tony Bullimore’s ill-fated Exide Challenger. The following March I was back again, not to greet the victorious Christophe Auguin, but along with more than 100,000 French fans to welcome home that same boat, Goss a hero after his heroic Southern Ocean rescue of Raphael Dinelli. Goss was delayed by two days because of the fickle Biscay spring winds. Today the fleet is also delayed by two days before they start on Tuesday but not by calms but by a roaring November storm threatening hurricane force winds.

What a difference four years makes. Four years ago I was talking to Ellen MacArthur after the start and she was talking, hopefully, of returning in 2000 with any Open 60 she could lay her hands on, a boat probably two or three generations old. Today she is back with a full on Open 60 campaign, winner of the recent Open 60 class in the Europe1 New Man STAR and with one of the best funded campaigns. But not just best funded, Kingfisher looks meticulously prepared and of all the newest batch of Open 60s has the most miles under her keel.

Four years ago Mike Golding was on the second leg of the BT Global Challenge, a race he went on to win in emphatic fashion in Group 4. Today Mike is here with another fully-funded campaign with Team Group 4, having made the podium in the STAR as well. Mike’s reputation for meticulous preparation shows in his boat, arguably the best-prepared boat in the whole fleet. “The boys have washed her down a couple of times in the last week,” he said, “but that’s about it”.

A few metres away on the other side of the pontoon lies yet another together looking boat in her striking green and white livery. Four years ago Josh Hall was sitting on the sidelines having lost his previous Open 60 Gartmore after colliding with debris on the first leg of BOC Challenge. With additional late funding from EBP, Josh too is fronting a fully professional campaign with his Finot-designed EBP Gartmore. Although Josh spoke out against the postponement of the start he may have some reason to be glad of the delay as he is nursing bruised ribs and coccyx after falling across the boat when on trials last week.

The fourth and final British Open 60 is Richard Tolkien’s private entry, ARGOS Soditic, one time Fujicolour, although Tolkien has received some last minute support sponsorship. At a press conference on Saturday afternoon he found himself surprised at being applauded by his fellow skippers. For it was Tolkien who suggested the way out of the ‘start or not to start’ stalemate by suggesting a vote by the skippers. A seamanlike decision was the near universal reaction to the delay of the start.

And four years on Pete Goss is finding new mountains to climb as he desperately tries to ready Team Philips for the Race. Let’s hope that seamanship prevails here as well.