Sailing: Dalton in $10m Whitbread assault

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A $10m (pounds 6.1m) assault on next year's Whitbread Race was announced by Grant Dalton yesterday. The New Zealander who won the maxi class in the last race takes over the running of Merit Cup, which is backed by the Swiss-based clothes subsidiary of the American tobacco giant Philip Morris, from Pierre Fehlmann.

In an accelerated programme, Dalton's team is building two boats at Marten Marine in his home town of Auckland. Despite 17,000 man hours going into each boat, Dalton expects the build to be completed in a remarkably short 17 weeks.

Both boats will be launched at the end of February to be tested and developed in New Zealand and South Pacific waters prior to being shipped to Europe. One will be chosen for the race, which starts from Southampton next September, the other will either be used for promotional work or sold.

There was a multinational feel to the challenge, which will be presented through the Yacht Club de Monaco and was given the official seal of approval by its president, Prince Albert. Dalton will have the navigator Mike Quilter and Kevin Shoebridge alongside him again from the New Zealand Endeavour campaign of 1993-94.

Italian interests are represented by the man named as co-skipper, Guido Maisto, skipper last time of Brooksfield, and the bowman Paolo Bassani. The Monegasque sailor Herve Cunningham has won a place but the rest will be Kiwis.

Dalton, whose fifth Whitbread this will be, admitted he had never set foot on a W60 before, but expected the development programme to allow him to catch up quickly. The Merit Cup announcement brought the number of new boats being built for the race to 11, said its director Ian Bailey- Willmot. "I am confident a 12th will be started in the next two weeks and I expect 14 to 16 to be on the start line, perhaps including three of the 1993 boats," he said.

The designer Bruce Farr, who is responsible for most of the new boats, said the various syndicates for which he is working could choose to concentrate on different factors such as light airs downwind or heavy upwind performance, but the boats would look very similar.

The long-awaited confirmation that Lawrie Smith is to part company with EF, the Swedish challenge he skippers, and instead head up a British challenge backed by Silk Cut is now expected on Monday.