Britain last won the Cup 10 years ago and in the intervening four events had never been close. But this was a "no excuse to lose" team and, as the sailors came ashore on Friday drained after one of the most testing regattas in the recent history of the offshore championship, the British team manager, Harold Cudmore, could not hide his sense of failure. "We had always said that this was a group of sailors and three boats that could win the Admiral's Cup," Cudmore said dockside. "So I'm not standing here making excuses. The Dutch didn't win it, we gave it away and it was due to the performance of one boat in the last race."
That one boat was Nautica Arbitrator, Stephen Bailey's Sydney 40 skippered by Law. Arbitrator topped the Sydney 40 fleet after six of the eight races, but the boat's fall from grace was as central to the British failure as it was dramatic. In the last three races, including the high-scoring two- day Wolf Rock Race which finished on Friday, Arbitrator finished seventh in class and ninth twice.
As dawn broke on Friday and Arbitrator trailed the Sydney 40 fleet arriving in the Solent, Law looked lost and beaten. The crew were silent as they crossed the finishing line after nearly 48 hours of physically tough and mentally taxing racing. Law managed a weak, sympathetic pat on the back of the helmsman, Graham Bailey, who himself came ashore devastated.
Back in Cowes Britain's two other team boats, the 50-footer Venture 99 and the Mumm 36 Barlo Plastics, had excelled with a second apiece in the championship decider. Going into the race, six teams were in contention for the lead and most found themselves in the top spot at one time or another. Given Britain's results in the IMS 50 class and the Mumm 36 class, all that was needed from Arbitrator was what should have been a relatively easy fourth.
It did not happen. Arbitrator was last and nearly an hour off the lead of the Sydney 40 class after six hours and never got back into it.
"I seem to be taking the rap for all this," Law said as he stepped ashore. No one in the British camp seemed keen to deny him that ignominy. Despite Law's mercurial behaviour - he announced his retirement to BBC cameras in the middle of the regatta, but the cracks were patched over before he announced it again to the same camera crew during the Wolf Rock Race - the reasons for the demise of the British team were much more deeply founded.
Lawrie Smith, Ian Walker and the crew of Venture 99 were pushing an IMS 50 around the course with which they were never happy. The boat was too tippy and the penalty for her carbon construction was not offset by performance. Looking back, they will consider their fourth in class an impressive result.
While the skipper, Adrian Stead, the helmsman, Tim Powell, and the crew of Barlo Plastics were the darlings of the British team, winning not only their class but the top boat of regatta honour, on board British Sydney 40 all was never well.
Although Nautica Arbitrator started well and Law pulled off some brilliant moves in the opening inshore skirmishes, his relationship with Stephen Bailey was strained after he had been called to task for mistakes in a warm-up regatta the week before the cup. The boat was short of fire-power in the strategic department, particularly offshore, and especially when compared with the stellar afterguards of the winning Dutch team that included the likes of the Whitbread sailors Dee Smith, Roy Heiner and Erle Williams; ironically, all three Dutch boats were navigated by British nationals or qualified residents.
Looking back, it is easy to see why Britain could not win, although much good has come from a solid third place, not least the fact that it could easily have been a lot worse.Reuse content