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Last Updated: Friday, 28 May, 2004, 14:35 GMT 15:35 UK
A tough life on the ocean waves
by Jonathan Morris
BBC News Online South West

Hellomoto surfs the waves in preparation for the Transat

Fifteen years ago Conrad Humphreys was racing 14ft plywood dinghies around Exmouth in Devon.

Now he is preparing to race single-handedly across the Atlantic in a 1.4m 60ft carbonfibre yacht.

Humphreys, 31, is one the UK's hopes in the annual Transat race which started in Plymouth on Monday.

The Transat is sailing's version of a drag race - a single-handed, no holds barred sprint to be the first over the line in Boston in about two weeks.

Humphreys will be eating high-carb fast food - about 4,000 calories a day - to keep his energy levels up.

He will be grabbing cat-naps of no more than 20 minutes at a time on a plastic bunk as Hellomoto surges across the Atlantic swells towards the US east coast.

There, assuming Hellomoto is still in one piece, he will be physically and mentally exhausted, only to face the risk of icebergs.

CONRAD HUMPHREYS
Conrad Humphreys
1989: Won Junior World Cadet Championships
1993/94: Ocean racing debut as crewman on Whitbread Round the World Race
2000/2001: Overall winner, BT Global Challenge
2002: Route de Rhum, debut single-handed transatlantic
2003: Transat Jacques Vabre, first in class
As Humphreys guided me around the yacht, it is not obvious where all the money goes.

For a start, there's not much of it - only rudimentary creature comforts, just a single sink for instance.

But that sink is made of carbonfibre, like Formula One cars.

Humphreys had a team of seven people working flat out for two months to get the boat shipshape.

The boat and the team cost about 600,000 a year to run. The winch handles alone cost 500 each.

But Humphreys' skill as a sailor has been matched by his skill in the boardroom this year as he secured the finance from Motorola to buy and prepare Hellomoto for the Transat.

Humphreys has his own Plymouth-based leadership skills firm which attracted Motorola.

TRANSAT LINE-UP
10 boats in 50ft class
12 boats in 60ft multihull class
17 boats in 60ft monohull class
Start: 1400 Monday 31 May

"It's been very tight, time-wise," he said.

"But the reason we won the BT Global Challenge was because of the calibre of the people on board.

"You are only as good as the people who prepare your boat."

He even roped in his wife Vikki.

He said: "Last Sunday morning, Vikki and a friend donned our frog suits to clean the bottom of the boat.

"A surprised camera crew commented that it was the first time they had seen a skipper in the water scrubbing his boat.

"I said we were having a relaxing Sunday morning!"

Humphreys' list of achievements date back to when he was 16 and won the Cadet World Championships.

His big break came when he was selected as skipper of the 72ft LG Flatron in the 200/2001 BT Global Challenge.

He became the youngest ever skipper, at 26, to win the round-the-world race.

The foundations were in place for him to launch his solo sailing career and in 2002 he sailed his first, ill-fated, single-handed transatlantic race, the Route du Rhum from France to the Caribbean.

There's no other sport like this. It's like a game of chess, played out on the oceans of the world
Conrad Humphreys

By day five of the race, a powerful depression swept in from the south across the fleet's path in the Bay of Biscay.

With 19 of the 30 multi-hull racers forced out, Humphreys was dismasted.

In gale-force winds he constructed a makeshift jury rig and headed back to Brest.

He said: "It actually gave me more incentive to get out there and prove myself.

"Single-handed racing is an area in which I still feel I have plenty to learn."

His sights are set on completing the Transat in good shape for the next challenge, the Vendee Globe single-handed round-the-world race, which made Ellen MacArthur a household name in 2001.

Sailing heroes

He added: "I set short and long-term goals and I get very frustrated if I do not achieve them. I'm incredibly driven."

He knows that winning the Vendee would also make him a British sailing hero like MacArthur, Chay Blyth and the first winner of the Transat, Sir Francis Chichester.

But Humphreys maintains he is unimpressed with fame.

He said: "I am competitive, but I am not in this to be famous, because there are far easier ways.

"I am in this because I absolutely love the sport and the competition.

"There's no other sport like this. It's like a game of chess, played out on the oceans of the world."




SEE ALSO:
Humphreys sails for success
01 Nov 03  |  Devon
'World's toughest yacht race' ends
30 Jun 01  |  UK News


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