Great Britain deep in the doldrums

Cowes Week: Unexpectedly brisk winds cause the Admiral's Cup fleet to change course in midstream
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THE WINNERS were grinning, but the losers spitting with rage as the Champagne Mumm Admiral's Cup fleet straggled back into Cowes yesterday at the end of an offshore race in the Channel which started so briskly that the 104-mile course was extended to 154, and which then dissolved into frustrating calm.

Deepest in the doldrums was the Great Britain team which now lies eighth out of eight, last, at the back, carrying the red lantern. Their ability to find more snakes than ladders is in contrast to the Scandinavians, who have jumped to third overall, ahead of the holders, Germany. But it is the United States who continue to march determinedly towards a goal that is the focus of a four-year programme, with Italy hanging in just seven points adrift.

While consistency has been the keynote of the American performance, the Scandinavian group, entered under a common umbrella for the first time, with a boat each from Norway, Sweden and Denmark, has seen fortunes fluctuate. Their Mumm 36, Skandia, was dismasted in the second of two inshore races on Thursday, but came back to win its division in the Channel race, as did their big boat, Mean Machine.

The Italian 40, BravaQ8, has shrugged off attacks about any wrinkles in her measurement assessment and, with Francesco de Angelis and the American Paul Cayard sharing responsibilities at the back, the Kiwi Warwick Fleury trimming the main sail, and another American, Stevie Erickson, looking after headsail trimming, they are a click too powerful even for the meticulously prepared Americans in their 40, Pigs in Space, steered by Kenny Read.

The course took the competitors, including 61 non- cuppers, westward out of the Solent on a swift ebb tide and down to Poole, where they turned to run back south of the Isle of Wight and put in a triangle around Nab Tower. The weather forecast was for light winds, so the course was cautiously short, just 104 miles, where the norm would have been 140 to 200. It rapidly became clear that what was meant to be a 36-hour marathon would turn into a sprint as the breeze held at 12-15 knots and the really big boats, the Maxis, were looking at a finish within 12 hours, and the big Admiral's Cup boats not much after that.

The race officer Alan Green then invoked a provision to change the course while the race was in progress, broadcast his intentions to the fleet, and sent them another 50 miles up towards Brighton and back.

Those competitors who made it across the finish line near Portsmouth before the wind finally died out just before dawn included the clutch of Maxi yachts that have returned to take part in a rejuvenated Skandia Life Cowes Week.

Others were not so lucky. The Irish team on their mid-size 40-footer Jameson 2 had to endure the frustration of anchoring, out of wind and with the tide pushing them backwards, just 0.8 of a mile from the finish when holding third place in their class. They then saw both the Hong Kong boat Beau Geste and Scandinavia's 40-footer Fram, sailed by King Harald of Norway, trickle past to push them down to fifth.

Less concerned were the competitors beginning eight days of racing in Skandia Life Cowes Week yesterday.

There is a total of 857 boats entered, up by 50 over last year, and most of them had to worry more about sunburn than survival at sea as a fitful wind delayed the starts of most races and made for slow progress when they began.