Sailing: Conner's early gamble pays off

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The Independent Online
THE jackpot light was still flashing over Dennis Conner's Winston yesterday as he continued to cash in bonus miles for his early gamble in the third leg of the Whitbread Race from Fremantle to Auckland, writes Stuart Alexander.

The move further south than all the rest of the 14-strong fleet has been rewarded with stronger winds, which yesterday stretched to 77 miles the lead of his Whitbread 60 over his nearest rival, Grant Dalton in the 20ft longer maxi, New Zealand Endeavour.

While many skippers further north had thought that Conner, who has the weather expert, Roger 'Clouds' Badham, as part of his shore team, may have run out of paydirt by now, the race office predicts that he is actually better placed to outrun a high pressure zone developing in the Great Australian Bight.

Another 24 hours of making an average of nearly two knots faster than his rivals could put Winston in an unassailable position in the highly prized tussle to be first into Auckland. Dalton had 16 miles on his nearest maxi rival, La Poste, where the new skipper, Eric Tabarly, aided by his navigator, Halvard Mabire, has shaded Pierre Fehlmann's Merit Cup into third.

Lawrie Smith, in Intrum Justitia, has so far been unable to repeat his runaway form of the second leg and, 108 miles behind Winston, was fifth W60 with Britain's Dolphin & Youth 18 miles behind him.

Conner still faces the reopening in Auckland of the investigation into the amount of time to be awarded to Winston for going to the aid of the Italian Brooksfield when she was making water due to a broken rudder in the second leg. The 21 hours given by the jury in Fremantle brought cries of dismay from Intrum Justitia, Tokio, Galicia and Yamaha.

WHITBREAD ROUND THE WORLD RACE: (Third leg Hobart to Auckland): Leading positions (with miles to finish): Whitbread 60s: 1 Winston (D Conner, US) 2,519; 2 Tokio (C Dickson, NZ) 2,602; 3 Yamaha (R Field, NZ) 2,621. Maxis: 1 New Zealand Endeavour (G Dalton, NZ) 2,596; 2 La Poste (E Tabarly, Fr) 2,612; 3 Merit Cup (P Fehlmann, Swit) 2,625.