Mike Golding limped into third place in the Vendée Globe after losing his keel

In the early hours of this morning Mike Golding pulled off one of the most extra- ordinary conclusions to a sailing passage, let alone a gruelling singlehanded non-stop round the world yacht race.

Yesterday afternoon after more than 23,500 miles of racing and with just 50 miles to go to the finish line, the keel of his Open 60 Ecover broke off for no apparent reason.

Slung beneath the boat, the keel, fitted with a 3 tonne lead bulb at its end, is primarily responsible for keeping the yacht upright.

Without its keel a boat will usually fall on its side or completely invert. In a yacht race, a broken keel will almost always result in retirement.

Fortunately Ecover is wide and in the light offshore breeze Golding skilfully nursed her the final 50 miles towards the French Atlantic port of Les Sables d’Olonne crossing the Vendee Globe finish line in third place at 03:17:13 GMT.

Golding arrived 1 day 4 hours 27 minutes and 18 seconds behind Vendee winner Vincent Riou. His elapsed time for the course was 88 days 15 hours 15 minutes 13 seconds – four and a half days faster than Vendee winner Michel Desjoyeaux four years ago.

“Careful – get in the middle. Might fall over!” Golding warned his shore crew and wife Andrea as they stepped on board seconds after Ecover had crossed the line.

In fact with no keel to drag through the water and the bear minimum of sail to propel him along, Golding had made good progress towards the finish. At one point Ecover’s speed touched 9 knots. “There’s an easy way and a hard way,” said Golding after he’d tied up. “I feel quite a lot happier about finishing third now.”