Sailing: Guerts is first to master the art of chop and change

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The Independent Online
ANY SENSE of gentle security induced by a quiet first race was quickly blown away yesterday as Walter Geurts, of the Netherlands, took a narrow lead over Britain's Mark Heeley after three races on the opening day of the Mumm 30 World Championship in Hamble.

Geurts was moving away from the 31 boats competing for 10 nations when the opening sparring session was shortened to five legs of the one-mile windward-leeward course.

But there had been signs of a new breeze coming in from the south-west to replace the north-west zephyr of seven to eight knots. The skies cleared, the stronger wind clicked in, and Geurts squared his shoulders to tackle an increasing chop kicked up by the 15 to 18 knots.

At first he was held off by Britain's Louis Browne, but the short course of six, 1,400-yard legs ideally suited the slick work from Geurts' six- man crew. Once ahead he took relaxed control as Browne then had to face a last-leg challenge from the American Ed Collins, whose downwind performance saw him squeeze through 300 yards from the finish.

But even Collins and Geurts had trouble on the third race, the Dutchman starting with a double penalty turn and Collins dropping back mid-race with a spinnaker blown to smithereens.

A dozen others had been wiped out or flattened as the wind gusted up to 28 knots, with Britain's Stephen Card being dismasted, the first time this has happened in the Mumm 30 class. The problem for many was self- inflicted. Thinking they were in for a quiet day, they had saved weight by leaving the smallest of their four Spinnakers ashore. Instead, the sail lofts were working hard on expensive repairs last night.

France's Laurent Sambron thought he had it in the bag going in to the final run, but Antonio Sodo and Massimo Mezzaroma of Italy put in a searing last lap to win from Heeley and Jimmy Phaun, who was fourth in this year's Tour de France a la Voile.