Sailing: Britain cry Wolf in open race for honours

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The Independent Online
BICKERING AND backbiting characterised the preparations here yesterday for tomorrow's deciding race in the Admiral's Cup. Any one of six countries can win the 400-mile Wolf Rock Race, which has replaced the Fastnet as the final event.

The British - joint leaders with the Netherlands - were annoying the Americans by questioning whether they should have retired after Venture 99 rammed the United States big boat, Idler, on Monday.

They asked whether wiping out the 50-footer's pulpit, pushpit, lifelines, and putting a hole in the stern, constituted serious damage. The international jury, which had had a hand in persuading the British to retire rather than disqualifying them, said they thought there was nothing more to be said about the matter.

Chris Law, skipper of Stephen Bailey's 40-footer, Nautica, was seeking redress of another kind after reading some unkind remarks about his character attributed to the owner of his German rivals' boat, Thomas Friese.

And there was tension about preparing the boats for what will be a hard race. Some weather experts were predicting blustery conditions for the gruelling marathon which takes the 26-boat fleet to a lighthouse off the south-west coast of Cornwall and back to Cowes.

Britain and the Netherlands are both just one point ahead of the pre-event favourites, Europe, with both Germany and the defending champions, the United States, within striking distance. The Italians, too, could win while the Dutch have seen their big boat skipper, Roy Heiner, leave for the Soling European Championship. He, however, is being replaced by two America's Cup helmsmen, John Cutler and Gavin Brady.

Despite all the distractions, the British team are in no mood to contemplate defeat. Ian Walker, the tactician to Lawrie Smith, said: "We are very confident in the boat, in the crew, and in Lawrie offshore."

Like most of the teams, the British have a combination of yachtsmen with America's Cup and Whitbread Race experience, exactly the kind of expertise needed to win. Walker added: "The most important things are to have all three boats finished and to keep out of the protest room."

Five of the eight members of the Barlo Plastics crew, the British team's star performers, have sailed the Whitbread race. Nautica showed in the shorter offshore races last weekend that it can fight its corner, and Venture 99 should have the steel to test the best. "We have the sort of fire power we have not had for a few years," Walker said. "Our destiny is in our own hands."