Dee Caffari, who last year became the first woman to sail non-stop round the world against the winds and currents, is pumped. The 34-year-old former teacher is visibly excited by the 4,300-mile, eighth Transat Jaques Vabre race she starts today to Brazil.
Her yellow-and-blue Aviva is the former Ecover and, appropriately, the new model, with skipper Mike Golding in a permanent quest for something to fret about, is just astern. He is rather less worried about the racetrack threat from two more of his former staff, Johnny Malbon and "Gringo" Tourell, in Artemis, than he is about the man moored between them, France's Michel Desjoyeaux.
Mich Des is the race favourite and his powerful new Foncia is a prime example of the way in which these 17 star-studded Open 60-footers have pushed performance levels.
Golding, OBE'd and, at 46, approaching grand old man status, with sailmaker crew Bruno Dubois, values "trademark consistency", but his prime objective "is to come away from this race thinking I have a new boat that can win the Vendée Globe next year."
For Caffari, too, this is an important stepping stone on the way to the Vendée, the gruelling non-stop round the world race which shot Ellen MacArthur to fame. Like Golding and Malbon, she leaves crew and mentor Nigel King behind after Brazil to race singlehanded back to Brittany. She has a new boat nearing completion in Wellington, but self-confidence is at least as important as shiny new equipment.
There are 14 nationalities represented on the 60 boats in the dock, including the once-supreme 60-foot multihulls, and half of the fleet is the upstart 40-foot class, a so-called bargain basement racer but which costs about £250,000 to stage a full-strength campaign.
The dark horses are a nothing-to-lose pair of British 22-year-olds, Dan Gohl and Tom Gall, who are prepared to push their Chris Lawson-backed Concise to the limit.
And the sun sparkles in the eyes of the Anglo-French pairing of Lancastrian Jo Royle and Antibes-based Alexia Barrier. They carry the reputation of Pindar after its new 60-footer, skippered by Brian Thompson, was dismasted for the second time just a week before the start. They are also passionate about an Earthwatch campaign that incorporates special attention for the Arctic tern.
Copyright Speakers Corner 2017