Sailing: Bekking steps in for Maisto on Merit Cup

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The Independent Online
Grant Dalton is to bring in the Dutchman Bouwe Bekking to replace co-skipper Guido Maisto on Merit Cup for the next leg of the Whitbread Round the World Race from New Zealand to Brazil. The nine-boat fleet leaves Auckland for the 6,670-mile fifth leg to Sao Sebastiao a week today.

Bekking, who was a watch leader on Dennis Conner's Winston in the last race, is a leading figure on the Admiral Cup, world inshore and Mumm 36 circuits. He is expected, also, to race the eighth leg from Baltimore to La Rochelle. His appointment signifies a modification to Dalton's strategy as Bekking will alternate with the New Zealander Tom Dodson.

Dodson, one of the tactical brains behind New Zealand's America's Cup win in 1995, will race leg six from Brazil to Fort Lauderdale, leg seven to Baltimore, and the finishing sprint to Southampton.

Maisto has had to return to Italy for medical attention to a skin complaint on his right arm and hand. He may rejoin the boat later.

One of Bekking's rivals in the Mumm 36s, the American Dee Smith, has been confirmed as co-skipper of Chessie Racing for the fifth leg. Smith was on board for the other southern ocean leg, from Cape Town to Fremantle, since when the boat's fortunes have been improving.

Staying with George Collins' team is the New Zealand helmsman Gavin Brady, with John Kostecki returning to Chessie for the race's later legs.

- Stuart Alexander, Auckland