Sailing: Fair wind keeps Merriweather in front: Luck smiles on Group 4 as Challenge yachts breeze towards their final destination

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The Independent Online
BOWLING home on fresh following winds, the 10 yachts in the British Steel Challenge were yesterday led by Richard Merriweather in Commercial Union, while Mike Golding in Group 4 and John Chittenden in Nuclear Electric were renewing the rivalry that developed during the third leg to Cape Town.

Andrew Stevenson-Hamilton on Commercial Union said: 'We are currently surfing under a clear, starry sky with 20 knots of wind and our spinnaker blowing before us. A welcome change from beating against relentless, freezing winds in the southern ocean. The days pass by swiftly and the crew have been lapping up the rays while trimming the spinnaker.'

With the end of the project now in prospect, all 10 crews know that, as the yachts are so closely matched in terms of performance, they will have to pick their routes very carefully and avoid tactical and boat-handling errors.

The Group 4 crew were lucky to get away with first snagging their heavy spinnaker as they hoisted it and then draping it over the bow as they brought it down. It escaped any serious damage and was soon flying again as Group 4 battled with Nuclear Electric to be the yacht with the shortest elapsed time for completing the four legs of the circumnavigation.

Eight nations will compete in this year's Admiral's Cup and the organising Royal Ocean Racing Club said that at least two more countries, including the United States, were hoping to lodge late entries for the event.

The holders, France, will defend the trophy against Britain, Australia, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Japan and the Netherlands over six races, starting on 29 July and culminating with the 605-mile Fastnet Race which finishes in Plymouth.

BRITISH STEEL ROUND-THE-WORLD CHALLENGE Fourth leg (Cape Town to Southampton): 1 Commercial Union 5,335 miles to finish; 2 Group 4 5,344; 3 Nuclear Electric 5,346; 4 Pride of Teesside 5,356; 5 Coopers & Lybrand 5,357; 6 Rhone Poulenc 5,357; 7 British Steel II 5,375; 8 Heath Insured 5,376; 9 InterSpray 5,376; 10 Hofbrau Lager 5,377.

Information supplied by BT