Sailing: Britain to push claims in Key West

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A determined bid to put Britain back at the top of grand prix yacht racing, and echo a strength acknowledged by their international rivals at Olympic and youth championship level, will be given a boost in the sunshine of Key West, Florida, today.

The entire 1997 Champagne Mumm Admiral's Cup team will line up for the opening day of five at the Key West regatta in what is paraded as the biggest winter event of the northern hemisphere, and they will stay in Florida for next month's Southern Ocean Racing Conference.

Britain seems to be threatening to restore some glory on the water: last week the backers of the Royal Dorset Yacht Club's challenge for the America's Cup announced that they will send a crew to New Zealand to compete in a "Road to 2000" regatta in Auckland in April. That followed a deal last month with Silk Cut which will put Lawrie Smith at the helm of a fully funded British Whitbread campaign.

There is a long way to go in the quest for glory, and no one is more aware of that than Peter Morton, one of the forces behind Britain's trio of Admiral's Cup boats. He says that Key West will not just be a platform to show that Britain can beat the Kiwis, Americans, Italians and Germans in August, but it will show this is a properly structured and funded effort.

The 30-man squad includes an Olympic presence on every boat. Glyn Charles, the 1996 Star representative, will be the principal helmsman on Graham Walker's latest 45-footer, Indulgence, while Charles' Soling counterpart, Andy Beadsworth, is on Tony Buckingham's 40-footer, Easy Oars.

The Olympic silver medallists, John Merricks and Ian Walker, sailing on Tim Barratt's Mumm 36 Bradamante, are tipped to take honours in a new field.