Hostilities with Britain's Lawrie Smith were set aside for a few minutes here yesterday as the Kiwi skipper, Grant Dalton, put the finishing touches to his new Whitbread maxi, New Zealand Endeavour, ahead of the start tomorrow of the UAP Round Europe Race.
Although just a series of sprint skirmishes compared with the long ocean legs these yachts are built to undertake, the race will provide the first real comparison not just between the three Bruce Farr-designed maxis all taking part, but between the maxi class and the new breed of water-ballasted speed machines, the Whitbread 60s.
The only British competitor is Tony Bullimore, the winner of every leg of the Round Europe in 1985 and three legs in 1989, who has, temporarily, pulled out of multihull racing. He and his group have invested pounds 650,000 in a twin wing-masted 60-foot open class schooner. But no British sponsor has backed them. 'You wait to the end of this race and see what happens,' Bullimore said.
Dalton's main worry is whether his slightly smaller, lighter solution to downwind speed will hold its own against the wider, heavier rivals, La Poste and Merit Cup, which carry extra horsepower in the shape of larger sails.
The rivalry between the two French-built sister-ships has also intensified. The La Poste skipper, Daniel Malle, has brought in the America's Cup starting helmsman, Marc Bouet, is trying a glass-fibre boom on his mizzen mast, has stepped up his sail development programme and is said to be going faster than Pierre Fehlmann's Merit Cup.
Dalton respects the speed of the Whitbread 60s, Intrum Justitia, skippered by Roger Nilson, Spain's Galicia Pescanova, with Javier de la Gandara at the helm, and Italy's modified Brooksfield.
'If there is a beam reach on this first 250-mile leg south to Gijon in north-west Spain,' Dalton said, 'then the 60s will be home and in bed before we arrive.'
The race also mixes in the 60ft trimarans that scream across the Atlantic, with Philippe Poupon, Laurent Bourgnon and Loick Peyron again crossing swords.Reuse content