Ainslie steers Origin to victory over locals

The understudy took centre stage in Auckland's Waitemata Harbour yesterday as Ben Ainslie steered Britain's America's Cup challenger Origin to a near-flawless victory over the local Emirates Team New Zealand in the Louis Vuitton Pacific series.

The triple gold and Olympic silver medallist had spent two years steering the tune-up boat for ETNZ as its skipper Dean Barker prepared to try and win back the trophy he had lost in 2003 and made it all the way through the challenger elimination series to meet a still dominant Alinhgi team from Switzerland defending the Cup in Valencia.

Yesterday, after being beaten by a tight but comfortable six seconds, Barker paid tribute to Ainslie and his crew saying: "They have been sailing really well. They are one of the stronger teams and in a position to get through to the challenger finals." "We are sailing a lot better this week," said team director Mike Sanderson afterwards.

"If I would give us only four out of 10 for our unbeaten four wins last week, I would give us six out of 10 this week even though we have scored only half a point and lost two races."

Already through to one of the places in that final later this week is the Alinghi team which so enraged the New Zealand public by refusing to race against ETNZ on Saturday. Alinghi beat its former skipper, Russell Coutts, now at the helm of Larry Ellison's BMW Oracle.

Oracle will race against ETNZ today knowing, as Ainslie did, that it cannot win points against a team that is assured of a place in the overall final of the LVPS at the weekend.

But Alinghi skipper Brad Butterworth was unrepentant about dipping the encounter saying that it was just the best move for his team.

He said that the fuss was all a "storm in a teacup" and accused ETNZ skipper Barker of being a "sook", a crybaby.

Samantha Davies slipped to fourth place on the water in the Vendée Globe solo round the world race as she was overtaken by Marc Guillemot, whose tactic of taking a more westerly route around the Azores high pressure zone paid off and given him a 100-mile jump.

He has less than 1,300 miles to the finish in Les Sables d'Olonne. Brian Thompson is fifth and Dee Caffari sixth. The Volvo round the world race inshore race in Qingdao was called off for the second day due to fog and light winds. A third attempt will be made tomorrow (Monday).

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