Sailing: Britons boost Japan's Cup campaign: Nippon Challenge's tough regime for 1995 America's Cup hopefuls

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The Independent Online
CHRIS MASON and Guy Barron do not regard themselves as foreigners battling for Japan in the 1995 America's Cup. In their view, they are simply part of a crew of dedicated professional yachtsmen.

The two British members of the Japanese Nippon Challenge are already in San Diego, practising and drilling with the other 22 members of the squad. Both expect to be on the boat for the racing, which starts with Louis Vuitton Cup trials next January.

Mason's job is mainsail trimming and Barron organises the running of everything from the mast to the bow: but both have wider roles than that.

'Day to day, it is a tougher syndicate to work for than any I have been with,' Mason said in the afterguard room at the section of Driscoll's yard on Shelter Island, San Diego, which has been taken over by Nippon Challenge. 'They have pushed us pretty hard into not just the physical side on the boat, but classroom lectures. We are expected to carry on after the sailing day is over.'

There are just seven left of the crew who reached the Louis Vuitton Cup semi-finals under Chris Dickson in 1992, including Barron, who was purely a coach then, and the man most likely to be skipper, the Manchester-born New Zealander, John Cutler. With another New Zealander Peter Evans and the former America3 man, Bill Campbell, also at the back, only Makoto Namba stays in the afterguard for Japan.

While there has been continuity in a design team that is sucking in as much Japanese technological muscle as it can muster, yet another crew has to be taught almost from scratch. The new boys see the Cup as a route to international sporting success; the fact that the sport is sailing is secondary.

Nevertheless, Mason and Barron are impressed with the work-rate and enthusiasm. 'If the British put the same amount of effort into sailing that these guys do, it would be a different story,' Mason said. Both say that they are now able to move into the more thinking side of handling an America's Cup yacht, rather than just sailing by numbers to get the sails up and down.

The shore manager, John Newton, another New Zealander who has been retained from the 1992 campaign, pointed to the emphasis being put on technology, though he played down continued research into forward rudders of the kind tried last time. 'We have moved on from there,' he said ambiguously.

Robin Knox-Johnston, of Britain, and Peter Blake, of New Zealand, were nearly 2,000 miles ahead of schedule yesterday in their attempt on the non- stop round the world record. Their catamaran ENZA New Zealand was in mid-Southern Ocean, between South Africa and Tasmania, and making 18.5 knots in high winds.