Team New Zealand extend lead

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The Independent Online

Hi-jinx at sea and shenanigans ashore as Emirates Team New Zealand saw its grip slip in the long race of the Audi MedCup but immediately plunged back into the centre of the action in the form of the America's Cup.

While the cup holder, Switzerland's Alinghi, and its would-be predator, the San Francisco-based BMW Oracle, are at legal daggers drawn and due to go head to head on the water in February, they are sitting at the same table in a series of meetings – the latest in Marseille today - to put the other frozen teams back in business. Frozen out the others may be; supine they refuse to be.

Leading the discussions are Grand Dalton for TNZ and that redoubtable sailing impresario, Bruno Trouble. Both Alinghi and Oracle took part in the Louis Vuitton Pacific Series last February, organised in Dalton's Auckland backyard.

Britain's Team Origin was also racing down under and has been attending the meetings – there was another last week in Paris – along with representatives from Italy, Germany, and France. The Spanish are no longer involved; many others have their hands in the air. Alinghi accepted an invitation to sit in.

Stuart Alexander talks to a seriously happy Terry Hutchinson.

The overall agenda is to see some sort of racing resumed. Some would be happy to see more of the LV series in the U.S., Europe and Australasia, while others would be happier with a much stronger linkage to the official cup competition.

And then there is the problem of funding, plus the terms imposed by any competition rules protocol drawn up by the winner in February.

Hot round-table air was matched by strong coastal air as the 11 yachts in the MedCup completed a 39-mile coastal race in near-perfect conditions of 15 to 20-knot breezes, some traps to avoid, and a generous helping of Mediterranean sun.

The New Zealanders had looked to be back in control, but slipped to fifth before pulling back to finish third. That extended their points lead to 12 in this regatta with up to four more inshore races to go, but was also a source of great pleasure for the winner, Terry Hutchinson, who knows that his Quantum team will have to pull out all the stops of it is to retain the series championship it won last year.

"That was a spectacular day, but at times we just had to hang tough," said Hutchinson, smiling from ear to ear afterwards. "We also had been fifth but some opportunities for passing lanes opened up and we took them. Any one of four boats could have won, but my tactician Morgan Larson did a great job."

The ninth, 525-mile leg of the Volvo round the world race, from Marstrand to Stockholm, starts tomorrow (Sunday). The fleet of seven is expected to arrive on Tuesday.