Sailing: Smith needs a leg up after another limp performance

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The cover over the tattered mainsail of Lawrie Smith's Silk Cut was like a purple shroud after what was supposed to be Britain's best shot at a Whitbread Race win in many a long year finished sixth in Auckland yesterday. Along with two fourths and a seventh, the latest result pushed Smith's big-money campaign into seventh place overall.

While saying that he would not make changes, that a run of poor results can be followed by a run of good ones, Smith is facing a dilemma of the kind he does not like. The question is how to inject new spark into a crew while remaining true to his first instincts which are to be totally loyal.

However, a turnaround there must be if Smith is to maintain not only the credibility of his Whitbread campaign, but the America's Cup syndicate he hopes will represent Britain here in New Zealand in two years' time.

Smith's mood was not helped by a two-hour limp across the finish line at Orakei Wharf caused by a shackle which exploded 12 miles from home, leaving the headsail to flog itself loose and trash the mainsail.

There were no such problems for the overall leader, Paul Cayard, who knew that a middle-order result would consolidate his position. EF Language finished 24 minutes behind the leg-winner Merit Cup, but fourth place keeps Cayard comfortably ahead in the points and ready to put on more pressure in the fifth, 6,670-mile leg round Cape Horn to Brazil.

The only cloud for Cayard was a protest lodged by Toshiba's skipper, Dennis Conner, who accused EF of failing to show navigation lights at dusk. For the first time in this race, the international jury will have to jet in to deliberate.

Free of all worries was Grant Dalton. To be first into his home port after a gripping duel with Toshiba left the 40-year-old skipper's confidence restored and his pride immense. Not that he was alone in feeling considerable satisfaction. The Maryland businessman George Collins was again full of praise for helmsman John Kostecki after a second consecutive third place. Collins knows that he has a programme good enough to match his commercially sponsored rivals, but, like Smith, he also knows that the climb to the top is steep.

WHITBREAD ROUND THE WORLD RACE (fourth leg, 1,270 miles, Sydney to Auckland): 1 Merit Cup (Monaco) G Dalton 4 days 22hr 16min 8sec; 2 Toshiba (US) D Conner +2min; 3 Chessie Racing (US) G Collins +12; 4 EF Language (Swe) P Cayard +24; 5 Swedish Match (Swe) G Krantz +41; 6 Silk Cut (GB) L Smith +3hr 1min; 7 Innovation Kvaerner (Nor) K Frostad +3:42; 8 Brunel Sunergy (Neth) R Heiner +5:58; 9 EF Education (Swe) C Guillou +8:05.

Overall: 1 EF Language 372 pts; 2 Merit Cup 333; 3 Swedish Match 313; 4 Innovation Kvaerner 307; 5 Toshiba 299; 6 Chessie Racing 294; 7 Silk Cut 258; 8 EF Education 100; 9 Brunel Sunergy 96.