Sailing : Britons' breeze

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The Independent Online
It has been a good week for the British in Florida. The sun shone, the breeze blew and the investment in a tentative venture by all three boats in this year's Admiral's Cup team to the Key West regatta produced a rich dividend.

It was a particularly satisfying week for Graham Walker, the driving force behind the British team. He had been fretting as to whether a rusty crew using sails which had already seen their best days could campaign his Corel 45 Indulgence - the biggest of the three-boat team - successfully against rivals who were considerably further along the learning curve and using newer sails. But the last three races produced two firsts and a third, leaving Indulgence only one point off a podium place.

They go to Miami and the Southern Ocean Racing Conference series next month buoyed up by the knowledge they can identify what needs to be done and do it. They will also have some new sails, and they now know the boat can hold its own on a handicap basis against the other 45- and 46-footers it will meet in the Admiral's Cup in Cowes this summer.

Tony Buckingham, the oil and diamonds millionaire who has been persuaded to stick his neck out in one of the most difficult classes in the grand prix scene, the ILC 40 (the mid-sized boat of the cup trio), was another happy man. His decision to buy the American yacht Pigs in Space, now renamed Easy Oars, has paid off as again a new crew bedded down a boat which has been virtually in deep freeze for a year. Two wins, a second and a third were enough to give them second overall to Makoto Uematsu's Esmeralda and Buckingham was full of praise for the way in which the Olympic Soling sailor Andy Beadsworth had worked with Geoff Stagg, who had helped develop the boat originally.

New sails are on the way for them, too, but a whole new mast is in preparation for the third boat in the team, the Mumm 36 Bradamante. The score sheet says it had the least successful week at seventh equal, but the work done by the Olympic silver medallists John Merricks and Ian Walker had all their rivals looking anxiously over their shoulders.

Walker is particularly self-critical and was unforgiving after wrestling with the problems of calling tactics on a much bigger boat than he has had to handle before and against some of the world's top talent. The saving grace, he said, was that although mistakes were made, they were identified and were never made twice.

This pair are rather special and six months looks like being too much development time for the opposition's comfort.