Hutchinson sparkles in Bay of Palma

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The Independent Online

Sparkling racing conditions on the Bay of Palma off Puerto Portals are being matched by a sparkling performance from the American Terry Hutchinson aboard the TP52 Quantum in the fourth of six regattas in the Audi MedCup series. The man from Annapolis notched up a second and first yesterday to stretch his lead to 14 points in this Breitling regatta with just one race scheduled for today.

It will take a mathematical miracle and some spectacularly bad sailing on Quantum's part to stop them consolidating not just their overall lead after the 35 races so far, which stood at 30 points last night, but their psychological dominance with just two more grands prix to go, first in Cartagena, Spain, and, finally, in Portimao, Portugal, in mid-September.

Sliding down the table was the boat which set the pace at Alicante in May, Peter de Ridder's Mean Machine and the King of Spain's Bribon, with New Zealand America's Cup skipper Dean Barker at the helm, also seems to have lost its way. Hutchinson was tactician to Barker in last year's America's Cup mtach aginst Switzerland's Alinghi in Valnecia.

Profiting most from this has been Alberto Roemmers' Matador. The Argentinian, with British navigator Steve Hayles and sail trimmer Simon Fry, is still fifth overall but second in this regatta. The consistent Swedish yacht Artemis, with John Kostecki as tactician, is second overall and Bribon, living on past glories, third.

How much more is there to come from the Quantum boat and crew that, even when it was finding its stride, moved to the top of the table at the halfway point in Cagliari earlier this month? "I think we can squeeze another 15 to 20 per cent.," said Hutchinson. "We have to work on the details. All the little things add jup and we learn something every day. But, as a team, we have to get better."

He was less positive about a meeting last night to discuss the future ofthe class with Britain's John Cook, owner of Cristabella, in the presidential chair. As so often, the fundamental bogey is spiralling budgets, as well as trying to fix a maximum weight for the keel bulb. But trying to limit the number of sails allowed - not something which would, as a sailmaker, appeal to Quantum - looked set for lively debate.

Keeping costs under control has always been a problem in yacht racing, especially at the professional end. After all it was over 70 years ago that Harold 'Mike' Vanderbilt observed: "If you have to ask the price, you probably can't afford it."