Sailing: Walker puts his America's Cup dream to the reality test

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The Independent Online

As the GBR Challenge prepares here for their first serious test since last year's America's Cup Jubilee in Cowes, syndicate founder and chairman Peter Harrison has named Ian Walker as the team's permanent skipper.

It was an appointment that everyone, including Walker, would have been expecting Harrison to make, but its significance is the fact that, after a New Zealand summer of sailing and training, the GBR Challenge feel life is going smoothly to plan. Indeed, in the several rounds of informal racing that have been going on between syndicates, the GBR Challenge are 2-0 up against Prada, the challengers in 2000.

"For me the appointment means that I am responsible for performance and results on the water as opposed to a more general sailing manager role which will now be taken over by Paul Standbridge," Walker said.

Four of the seven teams training here will be taking part in the America's Cup International Regatta, a double round robin and finals match-racing series that is due to conclude next Saturday. While the America's Cup is a year away and the regatta has an exhibition air about it, there is no doubt that it will be the best indicator yet of progress towards the start of the Louis Vuitton Cup challenger trials that begin on 1 October.

"We are treating this like a football friendly," Walker said. "And we will be rotating crew and trying people combinations that will see most of our sailing team racing during the week. If you look at the other teams, each has a reason to want and need to do well: One World are looking for sponsors and will be trying hard to impress, we need a good result to see where we are, the Swedes are sailing their new boat, and the Kiwis are sailing the boat that won them the America's Cup in 2000 and has never lost an official race.

"If we are simply slower than the other boats, which we could easily be given that NZL 60 was the fastest boat in the world two years ago, One World have been at it a long time and the Swedes have a new boat, then I will be looking at the manner in which we are beaten rather than the results. If we are sailing well and winning starts but losing races on boat speed then I will be happy. If we sail badly then that's a different matter."

Meanwhile, in the Southern Ocean the eight Volvo Ocean Race boats and crews have been taking a physical and mental beating. News Corp hit a small chunk of ice and damaged her rig in a phase of the journey that appears to have taken the boats into the worst patches of random ice ever encountered in this race.

On Friday SEB lost its mast, almost certainly sinking any hopes Gunnar Krantz might have harboured of putting his lacklustre campaign back on track. While the race is compelling up front, Krantz is limping to Ushuaia under jury rig. The tactical team on board race leader illbruck now fact the dilemma of whether to defend the north or the south. Amer Sports One, in second place, has headed north while Tyco, sitting third, has gone south. Both are under 30 miles behind and John Kostecki appears to be shutting off the northern route.