Sailing: Conner hits the front in Toshiba

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The Independent Online
Dennis Conner's expertise and determination not to be second best was much in evidence yesterday when, barely 24 hours after making a disastrous start, he steered Toshiba into the lead on the fourth leg of the Whitbread Round the World Race.

Conner blundered in Sydney Harbour on Sunday when he crossed the start line early. He had to re-start as the backmarker of the nine-boat fleet, but the four-times America's Cup winner has since clawed his way up the order. He hit the front by going from 5.5 miles behind the early leader, EF Language, to grab a lead of 3.7 miles over second-placed Swedish Match.

The 55-year-old Conner, who made himself skipper after his American boat had failed to live up to her promise under Chris Dickson and Paul Standbridge, said: "We were back in the thick of the battle, otherwise I am sure my name would be mud with the crew. I have spent a lot of time ashore lately and I had forgotten how great sailing really is."

The fleet has essentially split into two groups on the 1,270 mile dash across the Tasman Sea to New Zealand, with Toshiba leading the southerly bunch of Swedish Match (Gunnar Krantz), Merit Cup (Grant Dalton) and Brunel Sunergy (Roy Heiner).

To the north, Paul Cayard and his crew on EF Language have slipped from first place to fourth and lead the other contingent of the British entry Silk Cut (Lawrie Smith), Chessie Racing (George Collins), Innovation Kvaerner (Knut Frostad) and EF Education (Christine Guillou).

Like the hard-fought third leg, this race is producing constant place changes and a close finish is expected on Friday.

WHITBREAD ROUND THE WORLD RACE (Fourth leg, 1,270 miles, Sydney to Auckland): 1 Toshiba (US) D Conner 801.5 miles to finish; 2 Swedish Match (Swe) G Krantz 3.7 miles behind; 3 Merit Cup (Monaco) G Dalton 4.9; 4 EF Language (Swe) P Cayard 5.5; 5 Silk Cut (GB) L Smith 5.7; 6 Chessie Racing (US) G Collins 7.9; 7 Innovation Kvaerner (Nor) K Frostad 21.3; 8 Brunel Sunergy (Neth) R Heiner 35.7; 9 EF Education (Swe) C Guillou 73.