Sailing: Dalton closing in on leaders

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The Independent Online
MINI winds mean maxi weather and Grant Dalton's maxi, the 84-foot New Zealand Endeavour, was last night closing on the joint leaders, Lawrie Smith in Intrum Justitia and Ross Field in Yamaha, with just over 600 miles to go in the third leg of the Whitbread Round the World Race. Bigger sail area and 20 feet of extra length are powerful weapons.

The 3,200-mile leg from Fremantle to Auckland has been a cat-and-mouse affair, with Dennis Conner's Winston climbing a ladder of fast tactical thinking to establish a 146- mile lead, only to snake down to fifth of the Whitbread 60s, 25 miles in deficit.

Any one of the first six could steal a march and Smith's navigator, Marcel van Triest, said: 'It's going to be a slow race to Cape Reinga (the north-west tip of NZ). The race could start all over again with flukey winds up there, giving a match race to the finish.'

With four boats stuffed with local knowledge - NZE, Yamaha, Winston and Chris Dickson's Tokio - Smith may appear disadvantaged, but he has plenty of talent in his nine- nation, all-European crew.

Describing the atmosphere on NZE as 'electric', Dalton said: 'The weatherman had promised us these conditions for almost four days. Now we're going to make the most of it.'

While the yachts look assured of a huge welcome on Saturday afternoon there is a problem with the pounds 4m dock developed for them. It is shallow at low tide, with only 20-30cm to spare. The Auckland organisers said that the skippers had been warned to take care.

WHITBREAD ROUND THE WORLD RACE Third leg (Fremantle, Aus, to Auckland, NZ) Positions with nautical miles to finish: 1= Intrum Justitia (Eur), Yamaha (Japan) 640; 3 *New Zealand Endeavour (NZ) 649; 4 Tokio (Japan) 652; 5 Galicia 93 Pescanova (Sp) 662; 6 Winston (US) 665; 7 *La Poste (Fr) 676; 8 *Merit Cup (Swit) 692; 9 Dolphin and Youth (GB) 693; 10 Heineken (US) 790; 11 (It) Brooksfield 811; 12 Hetman Sahaidachny (Ukr) 909; 13 Odessa (Ukr) 1,119; 14 *Uruguay Natural 1,126 (Urug).

* Maxis BT Results Service