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BBC News' Jane O'Brien
"Team Legato was deserted this morning"
 real 56k

Sunday, 31 December, 2000, 15:31 GMT
Super-yachts start 'ultimate race'
Thousands watched the yachts sail out of Barcelona
Thousands watched the yachts sail out of Barcelona
The world's biggest and fastest catamarans have begun the round-the-world challenge The Race, described as the ultimate yachting contest.

The giant catamarans, with masts up to 40m high, left Barcelona's harbour as thousands of people gathered to watch.

The futuristic looking yachts are being crewed by the world's best sailors from Europe, America, Australia, New Zealand and Japan.

But only five of the six super-yachts have crossed the starting line, with British skipper Tony Bullimore told to make safety improvements before he can qualify.

team adventure
Intense interest in the race
Most of the futuristic boats will be facing their first rigorous tests at sea during their 27,000-mile voyage.

They are heading towards Gibraltar on the first leg of the race and will then sail south around the Cape of Good Hope.

There are no formal rules and the winner is expected to finish in Marseilles, in southern France, in about 65 days' time.

The current round-the-world record is by Frenchman Olivier de Kersuason, who completed the sailing in 71 days, 14 hours and 18 minutes in 1997.

Bullimore setback

Tony Bullimore was forced to miss the start of The Race because he is 150 miles short of qualification requirements.

Bullimore's Team Legato had to set off on a different course around the Mediterranean to complete the 2,500 miles needed to fulfil the pre-race distance criteria.

Tony Bullimore
Bullimore: Failed to qualify for the start
Team Legato spokesman Barry Pickthall insisted the team will still compete in the round-the-world challenge.

"The boats starting are facing 40mph head winds as they travel to Gibraltar which is going to slow them down," said Pickthall.

"Tony will start tomorrow morning and we think the weather could calm down and he could catch them up."

The setback is one of many that has plagued the Bristol-based yachtsman over the past week.

Race organisers refused to let Team Legato start unless it brought its safety specifications up to the required standard.

Bullimore made world headlines three years ago when he was rescued from his capsized yacht after spending four days in a tiny air-pocket underneath the up-turned hull.

Ultimate challenge

Club Med
Race favourite Club Med
The Race has been billed as the ultimate ocean-going challenge with the huge catamarans expected to produce a race dominated by brute sailing force and smashing the round-the-globe record.

Others have branded the challenge as foolhardy, saying the massive sails produce huge forces that have not been fully tested in the most savage seas on the planet.

The favourite for the race is Club Med, skippered by New Zealand's Grant Dalton.

The yacht already holds the record for the fastest crossing of the Atlantic.

Playstation, skippered by American balloonist Steve Fosset, is also expected to challenge strongly.

The most notable absence from the starting line-up is Team Philips skippered by Pete Goss, which was lost at sea during trials earlier this month.

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31 Dec 00 | Other Sports
Bullimore misses sailing start
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