Sailing: Conner battling away on all fronts: America's Cup skipper in the dock over spying charges and over the line too early in the Solent

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The Independent Online
DENNIS CONNER was fighting on three fronts yesterday - as America's Cup skipper accused of spying, as Whitbread skipper demanding change for 1997, and in start-line strife in the Etchells 22 European Championship in the Solent.

Syd Fischer, the Australian America's Cup chief who normally restricts himself to brusque comments, took the unusual step of issuing a formal statement to deny American claims that he was collaborating with another challenger syndicate, John Bertrand's One Australia, because they were using the same company for design and testing.

'Typical American defender hogwash,' Fischer said. 'It is not unusual for the defenders to do this and they will have an army of people trying every angle to irritate any challenger that looks dangerous.'

He then said a member of Conner's team 'had been caught red-handed spying on the Australian yachts at the weekend. The Americans are obviously concerned at the strength of the Australian challenge.'

'Perfect,' Conner said. 'Perhaps we should send more people down there. He is right. We are concerned about the Australians - and the French, New Zealanders, Japanese and Spanish.

'The man involved was Chris Todter, who flew there with the Australian he helped design Kookaburra, Iain Murray. He always stayed outside the 200-yards limit and stayed within the terms and spirit of the rule. Syd Fischer should be flattered we are concerned about him at all.'

Of greater worry to Conner is the structure and organisation of the next Whitbread Round the World Race, subjects which are being hotly discussed now that the 1994 race is over. 'The administration needs to be upgraded to the calibre of the competitors,' he said.

The rules had to be set early, written in such a way that they could be enforced, not changed as things progressed and misdemeanours not left unpunished. 'I don't like the idea that people can break the rules and there's no punishment,' he said.

'The course also needs to be given a lot of thought. If it goes straight to Cape Town then you outdate all the current top boats in terms of both design and construction. They are just not built to go upwind for 3,000 miles.'

He then turned to the problem of the Etchells 22 championship. Having scored a second in each of the first two races, the partnership between himself and the coach Rodney Pattisson was working well. 'I count it a privilege to have him help me,' he said. 'Perhaps his contribution is undervalued in Great Britain.'

Unfortunately, Conner was then judged to be over the line at the start of the third race, an honour he shared with six others including the first boat to finish, skippered by Britain's Eddie Warden Owen, and the third, Denmark's Olympic gold medallist Poul- Richard Hoj-Jensen. That gave another Briton, Tim Law, his second win in three races and the overnight lead with four more races scheduled by Friday.

In the Auckland to Tonga race, three competitors are feared dead after their life-raft was found empty and their yacht, Quartermaster, abandoned. Storms have forced the abandonment of 12 yachts and two Britons are among those rescued, Merry and Shirley Bigden.

Also rescued in the Two-handed TransAtlantic race, which started at Plymouth on Sunday, was France's Jean-Louis Miquel, an Irish helicopter taking him off his trimaran Lege Cap Furre Aquitaine after it was dismasted. Only 14 from a small field of 18 remain in the race.