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      Grey skies, rain that varied from drizzle to torrential and a brisk 20 knot wind were the conditions the 37 competitors taking part in The Transat enjoyed as the historical single-handed race the 'wrong way' across the North Atlantic got underway at 1400BST today from Plymouth Sound.

The first casualty prior to the start was Yves Parlier's new catamaran Médiatis Région Aquitaine who returned to port at 1230 her skipper reporting that there was a problem with his boat's autopilot system. Some water had seeped into the electrics, but after 20 minutes of intense work by Parlier's shore team, the radical catamaran was heading out to the race course again.

Also before the start Alain Gautier's Foncia was forced to return to Plymouth Yacht Haven with a broken fitting in her rudder system. This was rapidly fixed by her shore team who sent her on her way at 1640.
Watched by a sizeable spectator fleet braving the bleak conditions, the fleet started simultaneously, but on a line divided in three with the ORMA 60 multihulls the furthest east, the IMOCA Open 60 monohulls in the middle and the 50s westernmost, close to Penlee Point. Marking the divide between ORMA and IMOCA fleets was the Committee Boat, the Royal Navy's HMS Tyne. From on board here the start gun was fired by Omega ambassador, Anna Kournikova accompanied by the 2000 monohull winner Ellen MacArthur who had taken the Russian tennis star and sailing earlier this morning.

Hot competition in the monohull fleet saw five boats over the line prior to the start including Conrad Humphreys on Hellomoto and Nick Moloney on Skandia. The first non-premature starter was Swiss Around Alone race winner Bernard Stamm sailing Cheminees Poujoulat-Armor Lux.

Meanwhile on the multihull start line Marc Guillemot's Gitana X was penalised for a start line infringement and the first boats legally across were race favourites Franck Cammas' Groupama and Vendée Globe winner Michel Desjoyeaux on Geant.

The first mark of the course was the Eddystone Light eight miles south of the start line. Despite a lightning performance by Marc Guillemot's Gitana X she was beaten to the Eddystone by Michel Desjoyeaux's Geant. Gitana X was forced to stop off the Eddystone for 40 minutes as penalty for her premature start.

Among the Open 60 monohulls there was a breakneck fight between New Zealand skipper Mike Sanderson on Pindar AlphaGraphics and Mike Golding's Ecover. In the end Golding edged ahead by a nose and was first round. Like Desjoyeaux, Golding wins an Omega Seamaster watch for arriving first in his class. Omega will be awarding watches to the skipper who sets the 24-hour record and to each class winner on arrival in Boston.

Since the start race veteran Mike Birch has chosen to bring his boat back into Plymouth to make repairs to his autopilot. The sistership to his trimaran Nootka, Great American II of Boston-based skipper Rich Wilson has also returned with a broken main halyard.

The latest positions show Michel Desjoyeaux's Geant leading the multihulls and Mike Sanderson on Pindar AlphaGraphics first in the monohulls.

Follow the start and entire race via the 'Breaking News' pop-up window. This small window can sit open on your desktop and will update automatically. Click on the 'Breaking News' icon on the home page to open the window.
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