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Sailing: Britons' sticky debut

The learning curve for John Merricks and Ian Walker as they switch from the Olympic Games to the Admiral's Cup turned into a brick wall for a short, but crucial, time in the Mumm 36 World Championship here yesterday.

Making their debut in offshore racing, they had put Tim Barrett's Bradamante into third place and held off the world champion Tomas Friese's I Punkt for four hours, when they steered close into the island of Montechristo. "Then it all went sticky," Merricks said. "We found ourselves too close to the cliffs, in a hole with no wind, and couldn't get out." I Punkt had put a mile and half between themselves and Bradamante before the British team were back on track. They finished 15th.

Alexis Michas' American yacht, Chunky Monkey, came through to win the 94-mile race, but Friese's I Punkt was second to establish a big lead as the 18-boat fleet goes into three more inshore sprints today and a final short race tomorrow. Merricks has slipped from second to fifth overall, but said: "I was surprised it wasn't more and we are only nine points behind second place. We have learned heaps."

MUMM 36 WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP (Punta Ala, It) Overall positions (after seven races): 1 G Brady (I Punkt, Ger) 24pts; 2= C Larson (Jameson, US), T Grael (Bravo, Bra) 44.5; 4 V Vascotto (Osama, It) 50; 5= J Merricks and I Walker (Bradamante, GB), T Chieffi (Breeze, It) 53.5.