Sailing: Dutch triumph at 18th attempt

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THE NETHERLANDS claimed a vintage victory yesterday in the Champagne Mumm Admiral's Cup at their 18th attempt. "The secret," said Hans Eekhof, owner of their 50-footer Innovision, "was preparation." It made them a consistent second in each of the three classes overall. Great Britain, by contrast, were erratic.

The much-fancied Europe team, Italy II under another flag, were 9.5 points behind in second and Britain, who had led the series for the first seven races, slipped to third, despite two second places in the high-scoring Wolf Rock Race finale. The ninth place in the last race by the 40ft Nautica proved the downfall - even a fourth at 3.5 points per place would have made the home team equal first - and triggered the retirement of its skipper, Chris Law.

While the Dutch celebrated on the dock - orange clogs are being flown in for the crew to wear at tonight's prize-giving - the celebratory magnum of champagne for the Nautica crew was left undrunk.

Nautica's owner and the British team captain, Stephen Bailey, said: "We are obviously bitterly disappointed with the result. This was a no excuses team.

"With funding from Chernikeeff, the hardware and crew were all in place for one of Britain's best attempts at winning back the cup since the last time in 1989.

"Clearly, the exception to this is Adrian Stead and the crew of Barlo Plastics. They have sailed brilliantly," said Bailey.

Brilliantly enough to be the top scoring boat in the regatta, with four firsts, a second, two fourths and a fifth in eight starts for Stead, helmsman Tim Powell and former Olympic sailor turned charterer Stuart Childerley.

"We had a bad inshore series, and in that respect we haven't done much for the team," said Lawrie Smith, skipper of Venture 99. "But we had a good offshore pair of races." The 50-footer worked hard for second in a 44-hour test that gave crews little time to sleep.

The top boat accolade went to Germany's Thomas Freise, owner of the 40ft MK Cafe, who had four firsts, two seconds, a fourth and a fifth. One of those seconds was turned into 22 extra points for a disqualification.

Law was penitent. "At the end of the day, I'll take full responsibility. The boat I was skippering did not perform well in the key race," he said. "We struggled. Maybe the balance of the boat was wrong, but we just weren't going well. The guys worked and worked at it. Nobody slept. But I feel very disappointed to come in and feel we have let the team down. We didn't feel we took any risks. We just tried to catch up, but whatever we did seemed to be wrong."

He added that there had been problems both with a misreading by the electronic compass and water that had run out of a ruptured tank, causing further imbalance in the boat.

For Law, this was the time to announce the end. "I said this was the last time I would race competitively for Great Britain," he said. "After 30 years in the front line it's time to step aside. This race has shown I haven't got what it takes any more, so I would like to say officially that it's time to hang up my oilskins.

"I've been thinking about it for a long time. I'm 47 and it's time to stand aside. I want to lose the competitive aggression which you have to have to win at this level."

With a seventh and two dog lasts in the final three races his mood was understandable.

CHAMPAGNE MUMM ADMIRAL'S CUP, (Cowes): Final standings: 1 Netherlands, 124pts; 2 Europe, 133.5; 3 Great Britain, 141.5; 4 Germany, 147; 5 United States, 155.5; 6 Italy, 163; 7 Australia, 220.5; 8 Commonwealth, 278.5; 9 France 304.5.