Sailing: Britain feel benefit of a quick lesson

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The Independent Online

Peter Harrison's GBR Challenge emerged from a week of match racing in Auckland at the America's Cup International Regatta with just one win from five starts. But the results belie not just the performance of the nascent British challenge but the value of the experience to a group who have largely yet to be subjected to the intense scrutiny of America's Cup competition.

In their dreams this young team would have pictured themselves leading home Team New Zealand, the American One World Challenge or the Swedish Victory Challenge in this four-way series. The reality was always going to be much harder to fashion from British circumstances: Team New Zealand were sailing NZL 60, a boat that had never lost a race, the Swedes were in a new craft and the One World team boasted a track record and a luxury of time on the water.

Team New Zealand were imperious in victory, oozing class. Dean Barker's first test as skipper must now be considered comfortably behind him. Similarly Peter Gilmour will be happy with second in a week where his syndicate has been surrounded by accusations of stolen design secrets.

The Swedes – and their opponents – quickly learned that their boat (the first of the new generation for this Cup) was fast, but the inexperience of the sailing team at this level was exposed several times.

For the GBR Challenge, this was never likely to be an easy ride. But against their solitary win, they can weigh the fact that they won all the starts, led several races only to lose when the wind shifted dramatically or shut down, and managed to take a race from the One World team. The highlight of their week will have been the moment when they powered off upwind in the final race of the series while Team New Zealand were still parked on the starting line and unable to cross it for nearly two minutes.

The illustration of the boat-speed mountain the British are climbing is that Team New Zealand were back in touch halfway up the first leg and eventually rounded the first mark in the lead never to be challenged again. "I said before the regatta that I would be more interested in how we sailed than the results we got," said Ian Walker after racing yesterday. "And I'm upbeat because we did a lot of things very well. What this week has done is emphasised the fact to all of us that you need a fast boat and we hope that we'll get one when our new boat is launched in April."

Meanwhile in the Volvo Ocean Race conditions promise to be similarly tricky as the last 600 miles to the finish of leg four into Rio looks like turning into a light air lottery. The race leader, illbruck, has managed to stay in front of a chasing pack that had split to the east and the west, but has never been able to eke out a big margin.

With SEB retired, Amer Sports Too way back and News Corp now sailing under emergency rudder after their racing rudder sheared off, this is still a leg that Tyco, Amer Sports One and dJuice could take in the final two days.

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