Sailing: Percy joins GBR Challenge team for America's Cup

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The Independent Online

Iain Percy, the gold medallist in the single-handed Finn class in Sydney, spent the main part of yesterday as a coach to one of the five yachts singled out for special attention by Skandia, whose name is attached to Cowes Week.

Percy was coaching on what is now a rather old-fashioned Folkboat. Next was a trip out on the new, but even older-fashioned, boat in which he is campaigning for the Olympics next year. He and his crew, Steve Mitchell, took the Southampton and former England footballer Graeme Le Saux out for a quick trip round the bay in a Star, the class of which he is the world champion - such is the payback price of sponsorship.

But he was also being paraded in a strangely incomplete announcement as the latest new signing for the GBR Challenge America's Cup team.

He is due to join a very truncated sailing team full-time, but not until after the Olympics in Athens next year. By then the 2007 defence venue will have been announced by the holders, Alinghi of Switzerland, and there will be a clearer picture about how much a challenge will cost, how much of that Peter Harrison would again be willing to fund, and what partners he has found. Before that, Percy will "be involved in the early strategic planning stages".

After a hesitant start for the first two days, a glorious 12 to 14-knot south-easterly breeze provided near-perfect racing conditions. When, after 20 miles of racing, there is just one second between yourself, in third place, and the boat ahead of you, even Kit Hobday can enthuse about seeing his 52-footer, Bear of Britain, being beaten by Nick Hewson's Team Tonic as Hewson was only 41 seconds behind the winner, Peter Harrison's Chernikeeff 2.

After completing the same 20-mile course there was a dead-heat for first place between Tony de Mulder's Europrix 45 Victric and Ed Leask's Timberland. Leask's navigator, Mark Chisnell, said: "It was really tight the whole way round. That was a great race and it couldn't get much better."

And there was a little bit of history. The 70-boat X One Design fleet, whose origins date back to 1908, for the first time opted for a committee boat start line in Osborne Bay instead of the Royal Yacht Squadron line.

The former Captain's Cup winner Peter Baines posted a win to add to an earlier second place in three races. But he may need full oilskins today if thunderstorms wreak their predicted havoc.

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