Sailing: Golding's race in balance

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RACE LEADER Mike Golding was last night assessing his chances of Team Group 4 continuing in the Around Alone after he hit a shifting sandbank four miles off the coast of Cape Reinga on the northern tip of New Zealand's North Island. And as Italy's Giovanni Solding crossed the finish line to win the 6,800-mile leg from Cape Town, third-placed Marc Thiecelin also reported hitting a semi-submerged container, which damaged his twin rudders and allowed Isabelle Autissier to overtake him.

The impact was enough to push the keel up through the hull of Golding's Open 60-footer and he immediately put out a MayDay as he also rushed to close all the water-tight bulkheads on the yacht.

A fishing boat in the area came to his assistance and later Golding was given a tow into the nearby Tom Bowling Bay. There he was waiting for his shore crew to fly in from Auckland to assess the damage. If the boat could be repaired enough to make the final 140 miles down the coast to the finish then Golding could do full repairs and continue in the race. But if the problem is too severe then his race would be over.

A distraught Golding had time to report his plight to the race director Mark Schrade.

Golding won the first leg from Charleston by just two and a half hours over Autissier, but Soldini had been five days behind and would have pulled back only 24 hours of that.

The race rules automatically disqualify anyone who accepts a tow of 10 miles or more, or who retires from a leg. But spokesman Dan Miller said that, because the tow had been only a short one, "at the moment he is still in the race".

Thiercelin's crash damaged both rudders. He stopped and spent two hours making repairs. He then continued with one rudder still partially jammed but Autissier had overhauled him. She was also set to take the overall lead.

Team Group 4's Charles Rice said: "It is tragic that this should have happened so near to the finish of leg two, after coming through such the Southern Ocean. But it is a relief to know that Mike is uninjured."