Harrison returns to rule Britannia

Success for Team GBR's head and his America's Cup sailing hopes
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The Independent Online

There was much to celebrate at the Great Britain America's Cup compound up the Medina River yesterday. The team head, Peter Harrison, had won the most coveted trophy in Skandia Life Cowes Week, the Britannia Cup, in his new Farr 52, Chernikeeff. The core of his sailing team had finished 10th in the 10-year old United Airlines.

What's so special about that? Only that it was the best result of the week so for United Airlines, a boat which carries quite an onerous handicap. There are few crews better equipped to overcome it. It is led by Team GBR's sailing manager and double Olympic silver medallist, Ian Walker.

On the helm is the double Olympian Andy Beadsworth and alongside him, just as he was in Sydney in the Soling on the mainsheet, Richard Sydenham. The 6ft 8in frame of Mark Covell, Walker's silver medal-winning partner in the Star in Sydney, handles loaded ropes like they were bits of string to pull a child's toy. And in the middle of the boat, standing alone, looking backwards as he did when he won his rowing gold medal, and winding the handles of the winch grinder, always in top gear, is Greg Searle.

The day starts for Walker at his home in Hamble at 6.30am. Before 7.15am he has fixed some breakfast, changed the nappy for his four-week-old daughter Zoe, walked the dog Toby, and kissed his wife, Lisa, goodbye. A ferry brings him and other crew over to Cowes and they are straight into a check of the boat, deck gear, winches, running rigging, electronics, and sails.

The boat leaves the dock by 9.30am, is sailing by 9.50, and the afterguard is in a huddle 20 minutes before the 10.30 start. The main conversation is between Walker and the navigator Peter Bentley as they discuss how to tackle the first running start of the week, down the eastern Solent under spinnaker. The forecast of 40-knot winds will never materialise, but the choice of the outer end of the line, with the tide flooding strongly under the keel, gives United Airlines a flying start.

Covell handed over the job of warning calls on what the wind was doing to Mark Sheffield and he kept the helmsman, mainsheet trimmer and spinnaker trimmer, the Australian Mal Parker, informed. "Gust coming, but not a heatwave. Gust coming, could be a bullet." The course took the yachts past Portsmouth and through the forts into Hayling Bay – "it's almost like sailing offshore," said Walker as the sea became more choppy – and then back into the Solent. A second leg under spinnaker allowed some surges up to 17 knots as the yacht surfed on the building waves, and then it was a race home to the finish.

For Harrison, who is ploughing £17m into carrying the flag in Auckland in the America's Cup, winning the Britannia Cup was "all the sweeter." But the gusty conditions still held perils for some, a Sonar, Jasmine and a third Victory sank. Others continued their successful way, Stuart Jardine chalking up his third win in four starts to head the X boats in Lone Star.

* Robert Scheidt, of Brazil, won the Laser World Championships for the fifth time at Kinsale, Ireland. In Boston, Mike Golding was poised to win the fourth leg of the EDS Atlantic Challenge from Baltimore with Ellen MacArthur's Kingfisher, skippered by Nick Moloney, second.

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