Sailing: Conner casts off

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The Independent Online
THE Dennis Conner road show bowled into Southampton yesterday to announce a dollars 5m sponsorship for an American boat to be built in Venice for the 1993 Whitbread Round the World Race.

Conner is being backed by R J Reynolds, the US tobacco and foods conglomerate, with a new- style 60-foot yacht to be named after the Winston cigarette brand. New Zealander Brad Butterworth, watch-leader on Peter Blake's 1989 Whitbread-winning Steinlager, will co-skipper.

It is Butterworth's previous links with the Venice yard, which usually builds only cruising yachts, that has taken the job to Italy rather than New Zealand or Conner's native America.

Also flush with sponsorship cash is New Zealand's Chris Dickson. He is being backed by the Japanese advertising agency Chuo for a two-boat campaign.

Conner is expected to compete in two or three of the six legs in the 33,000-mile race. Winston's crew of up to 12 will be international and a watch-leader will be Gordon Maguire, a helmsman for Lawrie Smith on Rothmans in the last Round the World race.

'I'm a bit nervous as I have never been involved in such long passages,' Conner said. 'The longest I've done is 2,200 miles and I haven't had to dodge any icebergs.'

The race, which so far has 11 confirmed boats out of a maximum entry of 35, starts on 25 September next year from Southampton and goes to Punta del Este, Fremantle, and Auckland, back to Punta and then on to Fort Lauderdale before returning to Southampton in early June 1994.

Conner's connection with Italy may not be confined to the Whitbread race. He has also had talks with the chemicals giant Montedison, who financed Italy's 1992 America's Cup challenge, about leading their 1995 campaign.