Sailing: Field under investigation: Whitbread Round the World Race leader may face cheating charge

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THE Whitbread Race leader, Ross Field, was under investigation yesterday after charges of cheating were made by the disgruntled former US Women's Challenge skipper, Nance Frank.

The race director, Ian Bailey- Willmot, confirmed that he has contacted the other 11 members of the race committee to consider bringing a protest against Field under yachting's Rule 75, which covers gross misconduct or gross breach of the rules.

It is a very serious charge and may, if substantiated, lead to penalties such as banning Field and any others involved from competition worldwide and the disqualification of the yacht from the race.

As part of her claim for damages in a Florida court, Frank and her associates have published transcripts of alleged messages between Adrienne Cahalan, the navigator of Frank's then yacht, now Heineken, and the skipper of Yamaha, with whom Cahalan also enjoys a close relationship.

The messages allegedly occurred on the first leg and consisted, among other things, of passing weather information which would be helpful to their race performance. Bailey- Willmot confirmed that, if substantiated, it would clearly constitute a technical breach of the rules.

'A rule 75 is a very serious charge and I would have to be very sure it would stick and I would need substantial authentification that the transcripts are genuine,' he said.

Bailey-Willmot is writing to British Telecom, who record all such messages, though normally the records are destroyed after three months. The transmissions in question were made six months ago. He also has two computer disks containing the alleged messages.

A spokeman for Yamaha said they had received the transcripts only yesterday and they had immediately been handed to their lawyers for consideration. Frank has filed a suit for dollars 15m ( pounds 10.3m) in damages against Ocean Ventures (which owns her former yacht and Field's), Heineken, the Yamaha motor company and the Whitbread Race organisation.