Sailing: Broughton aims to make Navy fly

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The Royal Navy are flying the flag for British sailing in the Southern Cross regatta. Stuart Alexander reports from a baking hot Sydney on their chances of covering the White Ensign in glory.

The Royal Navy goes into battle here today led by a helicopter pilot, a nuclear submariner, and a land-based recruit training officer.

They join an enthusiastic, if still depleted, Southern Cross regatta for a nine-race series which ends with the 630-mile Sydney to Hobart race, starting on Boxing Day.

As today is also forecast to be the hottest of the summer so far, basking in 30-plus degree temperatures may seem a good way to spend a British winter. However, the work-rate over an eight-day training period has been intense, with the helicopter pilot and skipper, Mickey Broughton, cramming boat preparation, handling manoeuvres and fitness training into long days of toil.

Having the submariner and navigator, Paul Methven, and the square basher and principal helmsman, Clive Woodman, aboard has left Broughton confident that he has assembled one of the best all-round RN crews.

The 14-strong crew will be racing the 43ft Quest - a modern, Nelson/Marek- designed yacht, which was sailed by Australia's 1996 Canada Cup team in Hawaii. Quest was also second in this year's Hamilton Island Race Week.

Broughton, the navigator on the joint services' British Defender in the 1989 Whitbread Round the World Race and a regular on Admiral's Cup yachts, sees this as more than a flag-waving exercise for Britain. It is an important step forward in the Navy's return to top level competition.

They will have to be at their best if they are to take any top level scalps, one of which is being championed by another British arrival. Andy Beadsworth has been called in by Syd Fischer, the captain of the Australia team, to helm the 50ft Ragamuffin. Beadsworth, who raced in the Soling class at the Atlanta Olympics, will be doing his first Sydney to Hobart race - Fischer his 29th.

Still a few days from the entry to Sydney Harbour are the nine yachts in the Whitbread Race. Brunel Sunergy and the overall leader Innovation Kvaerner appear to be profiting from taking the big dive south to look for fresh westerlies. Paul Cayard in EF Language was estimated to have joined the leaders, having swapped his northerly option for a more southerly attack.

The fleet remains bunched over about 20 miles with any one of Paul Standbridge in Toshiba, George Collins in Chessie Racing, and Lawrie Smith in Britain's Silk Cut vying for the lead.

The boats have faced constant headwinds since the start on Saturday, which has meant frequent changes of tack and the necessary movement of gear and crew below deck that goes with it. The result is that the crews are now extremely tired.

Grant Dalton reported from Merit Cup that the boat had been under tremendous strain. "There is no doubt these boats are tough. We haven't broken anything, with the exception of a computer which gave up the ghost when we fell off a wave."

WHITBREAD ROUND THE WORLD RACE (third leg, 2,250 miles,Fremantle to Sydney): 1Toshiba (US) P Standbridge 1,440 miles to finish; 2 Swedish Match (Swe) G Krantz 4 miles behind; 3 Silk Cut (GB) L Smith 8; 4 EF Language (Swe) P Cayard 11.8; 5 Merit Cup (Monaco) G Dalton 12.3; 6 Chessie Racing (US) G Collins 12.6; 7 Brunel Sunergy (Neth) R Heiner 24; 8 EF Education (Swe) C Guillou 25.5; 9 Innovation Kvaerner (Nor) K Frostad 26.8.