Sailing: Golding rues his expensive `error'

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MIKE GOLDING was last night coming to terms with the possibility that navigational error could have sent him crashing out of contention for the Around Alone Race. As he and his shore crew prepared to tow the 60-foot Team Group 4 from Manganui to Auckland, he said: "I can only imagine I made a mistake and was too close to the headland at Cape Reinga. I was 1.7 miles off and thought I was being fairly conservative. I had no need to cut corners."

But, he explained, his primary satellite positioning system was down and he was using the secondary communication system. "I have the feeling it may not have been entirely accurate," he said. "On my plots, just five minutes before the impact, I was safe by a mile. It was not a case of fatigue. I just made a mistake. I don't know what to say. I don't understand it even now."

The mistake has cost him dearly. Golding was on course to hold first overall at the end of the second leg from Cape Town. Instead he has had to retire from the leg and that means he cannot win overall.

Nor has he yet made a decision on whether to continue for legs three and four to Punta del Este and Charleston. Team Group 4 was in breaking seas when she hit bottom, pushing the keel up through the deck and damaging some of the custom-made engineering. But if there was anywhere in the world where you would choose to have to repair damage it would be in Auckland, which has several yards specialising in racing sailboats and is gearing up for the America's Cup later this year. The 140-mile tow will take up to 48 hours and the Group 4 team, joined by the boat's French builder Jean-Marie Vaur, will lift her out and take 12 hours inspecting her to assess the damage.

The race restarts on 5 February and Golding insisted: "We have put so much energy and time into this project and, in my heart, I want to continue."Golding may take until Wednesday or Thursday to decide whether to battle on.

Isabelle Autissier is the new overall leader, by just under six hours from French compatriot Marc Thiecelin, who beat her into Auckland. That was after a collision with a whale tore off her port rudder less than 200 miles from the finish. Italy's Giovanni Soldini is just over 24 hours behind the leader.