Britain benefits from ruling

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The Independent Online

At one stage it looked as though, in a bizarre mirror image of 1851, there would be no first in the America's Cup class of the race round the Isle of Wight which was the focal point of the Jubilee Regatta.

A hundred and fifty years ago, after the schooner America had beaten all 14 British opponents put up by the Royal Yacht Squadron, the watching Queen Victoria is supposed to have been told: "Ma'am, there is no second."

History seemed to be repeating itself on Tuesday when, in a ding-dong finish, Britain's current Cup squad were pipped by two seconds by the 2000 challenger, Prada, of Italy. Their protest, that they had been forced by the Italians into an out of bounds zone, was heard by an international jury, who initially agreed. But, after an announcement that there would be a 20 per-cent time penalty, the jury reserved final judgement until yesterday morning, because the penalty would only move the Italians down, not the British up. After concurring overnight, they disqualified the Italians, which meant the British were ruled the official winners. It was a good decision as they had already picked up the trophy at the prize-giving on Tuesday.

The row, typical of America's Cup racing – and there will be more when the Louis Vuitton Cup eliminations start in Auckland next year – was the only really unhappy element of what had been a perfect racing spectacle.

Fine sunshine and a near-perfect sailing breeze had powered 200 yachts ranging in vintage from 1885 to 2000, and in length from 50 feet to 145 feet on a 55-mile clockwise course. It included, especially for the day, and in keeping with conditions in 1851, the mooring of a light vessel as a mark of the course near the Nab Tower.

There were almost as many thousand spectator boats afloat as there were people ashore, clutching binoculars and cameras, and crowding every vantage point. The modern era had its say as Gianni Agnelli's 92-foot Stealth recorded the fastest time, 4hr 48min 09sec; the mighty J-Class Endeavour took just over six hours.

The Italians were in revenge mode yesterday when, in light winds, Prada beat the British team into second place off Bembridge. But it was Michel Maeder, skippering Bill Koch's Il Morro, who then protested the Brits for hoisting a spinnaker too early.

Unfortunately, a weak and faltering breeze refused to co-operate early enough and racing for the rest of the classes was abandoned. That means they will have to be up and at the ready today on what was meant to be a day off.

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