Orion lacks the virtues of Paragon

Andrew Preece chronicles a busy weekend for sailors in Cowes and France

The Bowdens, Harvey and Roy, and Tom Hutchinson were first to finish in the Hoya Round the Island Race, scorching anti-clockwise around the Isle of Wight in six hours, 14 minutes and eight seconds in their Firebird micromultihull, Orion.

Although more than two hours off the course record set in 1986 by the 60-foot multihull Paragon, their time was achieved in less than ideal conditions.

Orion and her sister ship Firebird II, which finished second, were match racing for much of the 60-mile course and in the end comfortably held off Mike Slade's 80-foot maximonohull Longobarda, skippered by Eddie Warden- Owen.

Three and a half hours after the front-runners had docked in Cowes the diminutive 23-foot Minitonner Shallot, skippered by Martin Moody, arrived to claim the race's top prize, the Gold Roman Bowl, for top boat overall on handicap.

The first of the 1,242-boat fleet left at 06:30 yesterday morning. The race will have given some encouragement to the owner of the British Champagne Mumm Admiral's Cup team, Graham Walker, whose new skipper, Chris Law, guided Corum/Indulgence to 12th place in its class, 10 places ahead of her sister ship and rival, Bounder.

Meanwhile in Cherbourg this afternoon, the biennial Round Europe Race gets under way. The five-leg, 1,900-mile race will finish in Stockholm on 23 June, having called at Rotterdam, Arendal in Norway, Kiel in Germany, and Helsinki. The mixed 16-boat fleet comprises grand prix multihulls, Open and Whitbread 60s, an Open 50-footer and five 80-foot Grand Mistral one designs.

The race marks Tony Bullimore's return to the sea five months after his dramatic rescue from his upturned 60-foot boat in the Southern Ocean during the Vendee Globe Challenge. Ironically, the Globe Challenge's organiser, Philippe Jeantot, will sail with Bullimore who co- skippers Exide Challenger, the boat in which Alain Gautier won the 1992- 93 Globe Challenge. The race is very much a flag-flying exercise for Bullimore who hopes to raise sponsorship to build a new single-handed boat for next year's Around Alone Race.

Bullimore is still recovering from frostbite. "The last few months I've been busy taking medication for my feet which are still not completely right," he said yesterday. "But they're all right to walk on. This is a good way to get back into sailing: a race of short hops with a full crew. My wife has always stood by me but I think if I said I was going back into the ocean right now she wouldn't be too happy."

With only two Whitbread 60s racing - the new Dutch boat, Brunel Sunergy, and the second-string Team EF boat, EF Language - interest is focused on the five-boat 60-foot multihull class in which Loick Peyron, skippering Fujicolor, is the marginal favourite over fellow Frenchman Laurent Bourgnon in Pri-magaz. Bourgnon was top of the multihull world two years ago but was usurped when Peyron won the major trophy last year.

The presence of all five of Pierre Fehlman's Grand Mistral 80-foot fleet marks the revival of his plans to stage a one-design race around the world, and an announcement confirming the sponsorship by Ericsson of a three-leg round-the-world race beginning early next year is expected shortly. While some may argue that this race will be for those who failed to attract money for Whitbread campaigns, the fleet boasts the 1993-94 Whitbread 60 winner, Ross Field, as well as the 1996 Olympic bronze medallist Roy Heiner.

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