Sailing: Gaucho rides clear

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THE top American yacht Gaucho, steered by Geoff Stagg, beat off the impressive attack of Argentina's Bwana by just eight seconds here yesterday, in perfect conditions, as the Solent welcomed a new style of international yacht racing in the inaugural Commodores' Cup.

The computer may have coughed a little when sorting out the places and unfamiliarity with a new handicapping system may have confused all concerned about how the race was progressing, but there was no doubting the warm contentment felt by many that here again was a fleet worthy of note dominating the sunshine and 10 to 14-knot southwesterly of the Solent.

As expected the American first team of Gaucho, Collaboration (lifted out immediately after finishing third to repair a keel cracked when running aground) and Falcon set the pace with Argentina coming second.

However, with another three inshore and two offshore races in the series, England were handily placed in third with the 26-year- old Sunstone top among them. The two Tripps, Sunstripper, second over the line, and Outstripper, were also in the top 10.

The first seal of approval came from Tom Whidden, Dennis Conner's tactician in his last four America's Cup campaigns. 'This is good yacht racing between interesting boats and good crews,' he said.

His own commercial interests as president of North Sails apart, he was also pleased with the United States' success in an event reduced at the last minute by the scratching of Northern Ireland to 36 boats making up 12 teams.

The US second team was fifth behind what is virtually an England B team sailing for Jersey.

ROLEX COMMODORES' CUP (Cowes): Race 1: 1 Gaucho (US I); 2 Bwana (Arg); 3 Collaboration (US I). Teams: 1 United States I 97.25pts; 2 Argentina 92; 3 England 89; 4 Jersey 74; 5 US II 67; 6 Netherlands II 62; 7 Hong Kong 47; 8 Scotland 41; 9 Netherlands I 37; 10 Wales 30; 11 France 18; 12 Finland 12.