Yachting: Conner involved in fourth protest

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The Independent Online
DENNIS CONNER looked as if he was heading for more trouble at the start of the final leg of the last Whitbread Round the World yacht race here yesterday.

His Toshiba had been first into the French Atlantic port of La Rochelle and was keen to be first out, though that privilege was being disputed by Knut Frostad's Innovation Kvaerner as the fleet set off in a 15-knot north-easterly.

After a clean getaway, Conner turned Toshiba round a buoy and straight into the turmoil of an indisciplined, and sometimes dangerously incompetent, spectator fleet numbered in thousands.

He then appeared to miss keeping a smaller buoy, marking an exclusion zone, to his right. Kvaerner immediately broke out their red flag, hailing Toshiba vigorously, and the navigator Marcel van Triest hurried below to radio their complaint.

If upheld, Conner - whose yacht has been involved in all three previous protests in the race, losing the lot - faces a further points penalty.

While Paul Cayard could already be presented to the man who fired the start cannon, the French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin, as the overall winner of the Volvo Trophy, there was plenty of room for upset in the next few places.

Even the second-placed Gunnar Krantz's Swedish Match could be under pressure, while the points for just one place on this leg separate Grant Dalton, third in Merit Cup, from George Collins in Chessie Racing. The wild card is Lawrie Smith in Britain's Silk Cut.

Nail-biting was also going on among the organisers, as the English Channel looked like being calm overnight and never better than 10 knots of wind all the way to the finish, which could delay the finale.

Ian Bailey-Willmot, the race director, is hoping for a finish up Southampton Water between midday and 2pm tomorrow to tie in with guest invitations and TV coverage.

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