Sailing: GB Challenge buoyed by talk of lifeline

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The Independent Online

As the curtain falls on the European debut of America's Cup racing in Valencia questions abound over whether there is light at the end of the tunnel for Britain or whether it is another false dawn.

As the curtain falls on the European debut of America's Cup racing in Valencia, where Team New Zealand showed they are a greater threat than their 2003 defeat at the hands of the Swiss would suggest, and the Italian Prada team Luna Rossa revealed a new maturity, questions abound over whether there is light at the end of the tunnel for Britain or whether it is another false dawn.

There is renewed impetus in the forward march of the GBR Challenge team's journey to a second consecutive appearance on the America's Cup stage. Earlier deadlines set by the syndicate leader and money-man Peter Harrison to find a sponsor partner proved an unhappy tactic but, just as their great hope, HSBC, pulled the plug on all talks, in has come Charles Dunstone, the founder and CEO of Carphone Warehouse, who is even wealthier.

However, Dunstone has no intention of pouring his corporate millions into the cup. He enjoys sailing his own boat but has kept a low profile. Even now, taking a major role and an asset stake in Britain's future participation is conditional on finding a major financial partner. His big idea is to use a cup challenge as a platform for humanitarian charity, on to which the commercial partners could hitch their support.

As importantly, he would want to see a wholesale review and then restructuring of the management at the Cowes-based team.

To beat costly entry-fee deadlines, the GBR team need formally to challenge by 17 December, and the gates close irrevocably on 30 April next year. GBR's two boats are being modified and are scheduled to sail in February. The plan is then to move them to Valencia, home of the 2007 defence, in March.

On other fronts, talks that would see St Petersburg become the new finish port for the Volvo Ocean Race, which starts from Vigo in north-west Spain next year, are nearing conclusion. A Russian yacht in the 32,000-mile round-the-world marathon is also being discussed. Major hopes rest on a film project linked to an American entry.

Also running out of time is Tracy Edwards, as the start- date of 5 February looms for her Qatar-based non-stop round-the-world race for giant multihulls.

Under further legal attack in the UK last week, she has seen hopes falter for a French entry skippered by Loick Peyron, leaving the bare minimum of three, Olivier de Kersauson's trimaran refitting in France, Tony Bullimore in his catamaran refitting in Bristol, and the 110-foot catamaran she claims to have sold to a local backer. That boat is still tied to its mooring at the Marriott Hotel in Doha, needing an extensive refit.

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