Mike Golding is going into his fourth Vendée Globe race in the unfamiliar position of being an underdog – and he couldn’t be happier.
The Warsash sailor has no illusions about the level of competition he will face on the solo, non-stop blast around the planet.
He isn’t there to simply make up the numbers, however.
Golding said: ‘The question was always “will I be able to compete?”
‘I didn’t expect to be as good as I was in the last Vendée, I was quite surprised. I found myself in a very good place, feeling good.
‘But I’m a competitive character and I like to push the boundaries.
‘I’m under the radar this time in the analysis of who are the race favourites.
‘It’s a nice place to be.’
Golding has a strong record in the Vendée, a race notorious for its attrition rate, though not without drama.
He took a seventh on his debut in 2000-01 despite an early dismasting which saw him restart and play catch up.
He followed this with a podium finish in 2004-05.
It was a race he was leading at one point before main halyard problems slowed him.
Sailing the last 50 miles without a keel then saw him lose second place.
He was also leading the next edition in 2008-09, albeit briefly, before a Southern Ocean dismasting forced retirement.
It was a crushing blow.
‘At the end of the last race I stepped off the boat pretty frustrated, in a much deeper way than I ever let on at the time,’ said Golding.
‘I’d felt great. I was leading the race, I was good, the boat was good.
‘So I was really gutted and went off and did two years of Extreme 40 sailing which did me the world of good.
‘It rejuvenated my basic passion for just being on a boat and racing.’
After such a disappointment, had he ever considered not returning to the solo fray?
‘I don’t know. If you’d asked me at the end of the last Vendée I was so despondent that I’d probably have said “yes”,’ said Golding.
He admits he was fortunate to find a sponsor in Gamesa – a global wind turbine manufacturer – and argues that, although he does not have a new Open 60 for the race, he does have a boat that’s proven.
Golding also turns the disaster of a Solent dismasting early in the summer into a positive as he now has the rig he always wanted.
As importantly, at 52, he knows what he has to do to win – though he insists this will be his last Vendée.
Golding added: ‘There’s the doing well by still being there, and then there’s doing well – and I want to be doing well.
‘I’m out there to race. I know that you keep out there, keep the boat together and keep your nose clean, get to Cape Horn and the race starts there.
‘Then it’s anyone’s race, anyone’s chance to win the Vendée.
‘I won’t do the Vendée again, win or lose.
‘I’d be 56 and I couldn’t, hand on heart, say I’d be competitive.
‘I think I’m pushing it to do this one.’