Rescue party steady the ship: ALMANACK

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The Independent Online
LAST Thursday at 9.30am, the crew of Seahorse Astro, one of Britain's Admiral's Cup boats, assembled in a surprisingly muted atmosphere at Port Hamble. We had accepted a kind invitation to join them for their first day together on the Solent, but as it turned out almost anyone in shorts and a T-shirt could have wandered on. The reason that this corner of the quay was so quiet was that hardly any of Seahorse Astro's seamen actually knew each other.

Seven days before the start of the biggest international sailing event of the summer seemed curiously late for introductions, so our crew didn't bother with them and just climbed aboard for their maiden voyage. The skipper, Harry Cudmore, bore an air of paternal satisfaction which was more than justified: when it seemed likely that Britain would not have enough money to complete its team of three boats, the Royal Ocean Racing Club asked him to run the final yacht, for which they had found funds at the last minute. Other crews had been together for ages - the Italians for a year - and the Irishman was given just three weeks to find a boat and a crew. This was less of an international sporting challenge, more Challenge Anneka.

So Seahorse Astro - which had failed to make the grade in the German selection trials - arrived in Hamble on Tuesday and the British crew, which included an American, an Australian and a German, came soon after. Only the crew's specialist navigator had yet to arrive, something Almanack found mildly disturbing. Cudmore was, after all, the man who had grounded and sunk his boat on Day One of the Cup two years ago and who had led the field into the famous Fastnet gale of 1979 then taken a helicopter to safety, leaving a note on the hatch of his abandoned boat: "Gone for lunch. Back soon."

He was not needed on this occasion. With the wind howling with all the force of a kitten, we hoisted the mainsail for the first time and there was an immediate clunk as one of the plates holding it in place broke free. So this was why our merry vessel had not made it into the German fleet. We spent most of the day over the water in Cowes, putting our sick Seahorse back together, watching the Italians cruising around the bay and generally agreeing that this was not an ideal way to spend one of only seven days' practice.

We had, however, not yet seen all that the two-year-old boat had to offer. When we were back on the Solent three hours later, all plates now in place, the boat's numerous sails were given mini test-runs and as they consecutively filled with air, the crew gathered round, stroked their chins wisely and discussed shapes, seams and shoulders. Their opinions on the shapes, seams and shoulders that Seahorse Astro had on board were not too complimentary - "shockers", "horror stories", that sort of thing. Taking out a new charter, it seemed, was a bit like unpacking a second-hand tent and checking all the equipment; Cudmore and his crew had just discovered that half their poles were bent.

We are pleased to report, however, that it is by no means all gloom in the British camp. Its rivals are young, slick, hi-tech while Seahorse Astro is clearly not in the same boat. Its crew, though, most certainly are. They showed remarkable understanding considering it was their first day together and that all was silent in the Solent. One wonders how well they will perform when they have found out each others' names.

WITH the Open near its culmination, Almanack feels obliged to warn today's contenders in the final round that local birdlife could ruin their chances of success. Only a fortnight ago, Joacim Johnsson, a Swedish golfer from the town of Sundsvall, contrived to hit a Canada goose with a mis-struck drive. Having gravely injured the bird, he thought it best to finish it off with his seven-iron. This, however, is not a shot to be found in any golf manual; he managed to strain a groin muscle while executing it and had to withdraw from the round. St Andrews, as we know, holds a considerable avian threat - there is already a stuffed lark in the Royal & Ancient golf museum, a bird brought down on the ninth course of the Old Course in 1890. Other winged obstacles include oyster-catchers, curlews and, particularly, herons, the biggest birds in Britain.

THERE are still places aplenty for teams considering entering the Third National Sedan Chair Carrying Championships, to be held in Lancaster on 28 August. And do not worry about the proviso that extra points are added for the quality of your Georgian dress - costume guidelines come with the application forms. "Men should shave off their beards and moustaches," they tell us. "Also, think of yourself as 'Georgian' and try not to refer to events or people occurring after 1802."

FAR more controversial than anything Damon Hill could manage happened during Brazil's win over Argentina in a quarter-final of the Copa America - a goal scored from a blatant hand-ball. Carlos Menem, the Argentinian president, weighed in with his views: "It was a monumental robbery. And he was offside too," he said. But a columnist for the Jornal do Brasil was perfectly unaffected: "Tulio's was an illegal goal of top pedigree, of untouchable respectability," he wrote gushingly. "I would let Tulio's goal marry my sister."

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