Spinnaker breaks British hearts

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The Independent Online

Yesterday off the Isle of Wight, the America's Cup Jubilee festival of sail turned to serious competition as GBR Challenge met Prada in the final of the International Am-erica's Cup Class division.

But it will take a while for the memories of this regatta to become more distant. Ian Walker was nearly in tears as he crossed the finish line five seconds behind Prada after a thrilling race. GBR Challenge gave a penalty to Prada in the pre-start and eased out to a comfortable five-boat length lead. But as its spinnaker hit the top of the mast in the final hoist with just the formality of an easy final leg to sail, GBR Challenge lurched into a wave and the spinnaker burst. Prada sailed past as the bow team struggled to set another.

The Italian boat calculated they just had enough time to take their penalty and won by six seconds. "There were 16 very hyped-up people on our boat," said Walker as he came ashore. "Tonight there are 16 very disappointed people."

Elsewhere, the atmosphere was less frenetic. In the Solent, neither of the other two J-Class yachts could find an answer to the mighty Endeavour, her 40-strong crew each earning two business-class flights anywhere in the world for hauling the boat around ahead of the competition.

If the performances on the America's Cup Class course are the overnight sensations, the enduring images are more atmospheric: the Maori celebration at dawn last Saturday as the America's Cup was brought ashore to reside at Cowes for the week; the replica of the schooner America rounding the Nab Light Vessel off Bembridge in the UBS America's Cup Round the Island Race on Tuesday, a rounding the original America failed to make in 1851 and which changed the course of Cup history. And never has there been such a concentration of people and boats: America's Cup sailing legends like Olin Stephens, Dennis Conner, Alan Bond and John Bertrand.

Classic hardware, ancient and modern, like Gianni Agnelli's Stealth, the 54-metre three-masted Shenandoah, the 64-metre Adix, Cambria, and 12-Metres whose names conjure images of the Newport era of the America's Cup – Intrepid, Enterprise, Valiant and Australia II.

Walker and the GBR Challenge will leave Cowes with images of starts won, tacks executed to perfection and speed read-out numbers that were a match for the competition. The minds of the other 3,100 competitors will be filled with more eclectic memories.

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