Sailing: Movistar holds on to lead role

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The Independent Online

A furious row broke out dockside here last night after the British skipper Neal McDonald suspended racing by the Swedish entry, Ericsson, just 300 metres from the finish of leg three of the Volvo Race from Melbourne.

The move was explained by Ericsson's spokesman, Bernard Schopfer, as "just using the rules, as others have done, to our advantage". It meant that Ericsson could use its shore crew to make repairs to troublesome wiring and the yacht's engine, take a two-hour penalty for doing so on a leg during which they were last anyway, and then start the next leg without incurring a time penalty for making repairs during a pit stop.

Torben Grael, the skipper of Brasil 1, was furious, describing the move as "dishonest" and "dishonourable", but Ericsson's navigator, Steve Hayles, said: "I can see no moral implications at all." The race organisers saw no need to make any comment.

Earlier, like a toreador taunting a charging black bull, Bouwe Bekking's movistar danced a successful blocking pattern for a nail-biting final 10 miles to snatch victory from Mike Sanderson's ABN Amro 1. In front of a large crowd, the pair fought out the closest finish in the history of the race, with movistar winning by nine seconds at the end of 94 hours and 1,450 miles.

Bekking's win did not just break the Kiwi skipper's domination, which has been absolute since the fleet left Galicia on 12 November, but signalled the prospect of competitive convergence. ABN may still have an edge in strong winds and they are working on their lighter wind performance, but all six boats finished and their rivals showed this is no longer a one-horse race.

After the finish, movistar had to be lifted out to repair delamination around the starboard side of the keel and the port dagger board, and to replace a keel wedge.

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