Sailing: Walker on crest of new wave

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The Independent Online

While domestic big boat racing languishes in the amateur weekend warrior league and the Royal Ocean Racing Club recruits a new chief executive from the British Heart Foundation at £100,000 a year to mastermind some sort of resuscitation programme, a new premiership has been created to fill a long-standing international vacuum.

Roaring north up the coast road from Valencia after 10 days of racing were 44 people currently crewing in America's Cup teams. Flying in from around the globe were another 13 who recently completed the Volvo Ocean Race, and walking the dock were nine Olympic medallists, including Britain's double-silver winner Ian Walker.

Their objective was the Breitling Medcup regatta, the second of a series of six, which started in Italy, stages three in the Balearics, and includes a trip to Athens. It is high-octane stuff and, using eye-wateringly expensive TP52 yachts, is no- holds-barred professional. The crews of 15 or16 are loving it.

Walker, finding life at the helm of Eamon Connelly's Patches, less stressful than calling tactics for Iain Percy's +39 America's Cup challenge, topped the 19-boat pack after yesterday's final race by seven clear points.

Taking home the trophy restored some pride after their lacklustre opening regatta with Walker attributing the turnaround to a combination of his own new role and the American Dee Smith having a "great week" calling tactics.

Second, courtesy of a brilliant win yesterday, were Team New Zealand who were on a high after winning in Valencia.Behind them both were the Greek team which includes Russell Coutts and Paul Cayard, and a supporting cast that numbers two more British boats, Stuart Robinson's Santa Ana, with Adrian Stead calling the shots, and John Cook's Cristabella, where Tim Powell is tactician.

There are already plans for a 42-foot class and this could be followed by a 36-footer, so player power could provide a structure which has been lacking. Britain, France and the United States - not helped by a constipated International Sailing Federation - have prevaricated for years. Now, some of the often-quoted "stakeholders" are having their say.

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