Sailing: Bradamante leads the way

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The Independent Online
A hash of a start to the Channel Race in the Admiral's Cup by Germany's Tomas I Punkt played into the hands of Britain's John Merricks and Ian Walker as they put Bradamante firmly in front of the Mumm 36s. However, a strong breeze promised a busy night ahead with plenty of opportunities for changes in the leadership.

Both Tomas I Punkt and Australia's Sea were recalled twice to correct a premature start. Ahead of them, Chris Law was again keeping Corum Indulgence well up on the big boats, led by Italy's Madina, but Tony Buckingham's Easy Oars was struggling in fifth place in the 40-foot class led by New Zealand's Mean Machine.

The 180-mile course takes not just the Admiral's Cup boats, but all the other offshore diehards up and down the South Coast with the finish not here, but in the utterly bizarre location of Poole Fairway Buoy, 25 miles away.

An early casualty was Hasso Plattner's Morning Glory, the record-breaking maxi in this year's Sydney-Hobart race, who lost her top mast after an exciting early tussle with the four Ericsson 80s. The mast broke a few miles off Anvil Point, near Poole.

While the big cats were away, the more ordinary mice and men were arriving in their thousands to compete in Cowes Week, which begins today. Up to 1,000 boats in 30 different classes will be on the water here over the next eight days.

The majority, about 600, of them are not grand yachts or expensive, sleek racing machines but sports and day boats, often shared among a group of owners. The biggest class is the X One Designs, dating back to 1908, with 86 boats expected to race. Alongside them are many other venerable designs like the Victory, Sunbeam, Swallow, Redwing, Dragon, Daring and, of course, the Flying Fifteen, which has just completed its golden jubilee World Championship.

More and more companies are coming to Cowes as part of the pay-as-you- ride market in yacht racing. Given a start of their own are 40 Sunsail Sunfast 36s, all chartered and pitching corporate teams from the City, such as Deloitte or Gartmore, big boys like the National Grid, or smaller outfits like market researchers The Planning Partnership, against each other.

The spread of genuine seamanship in a more recreational yet serious area of the sport - winning either the exceptionally fast Melges 24 or Hunter 707 classes will be a tough task - is expected to persuade the sponsor to sign a new three-year deal next week.