Sailing: Intrum leads tack pack

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WITH typical flair and flourish, Lawrie Smith's Intrum Justitia led the fleet away from Florida yesterday at the start of the sixth and final leg of the Whitbread Round the World Race.

The Italian entry Brooksfield swept ahead of the fleet at the start line, but Intrum tacked up the coastal track with vigour to be the first boat through a marker gate before turning east and heading for Southampton 3,818 miles away.

While the two leading boats opted for the inshore end of the line, Yamaha, the Whitbread 60 Class overall leader, crossed at the starboard end where the wind was less favourable, along with Tokio and the first Maxi to cross the line, Merit Cup.

Despite Yamaha's 10-hour lead, the British skipper Lawrie Smith is adamant that Intrum is not finished yet. 'We will be pushing the boat hard on this last leg,' Smith said. 'We are going to win.' Yamaha recovered well from an average start to follow one minute behind its rival.

The all-women entry Heineken showed their impatience to get to England and crossed the line three seconds early. The race committee called them back but their skipper Dawn Riley carried on and they will receive a 13-minute penalty at the end of the leg.

The Maxi and overall leader, New Zealand Endeavour, did not appear anxious to get underway and was one of the last boats to start.

In favourable conditions for the smaller class, Merit Cup was sailing well to be the third boat to turn as the yachts sought out the Gulf Stream and a fast ride across the Atlantic.

The Swiss boat was minutes ahead of Tokio and Heineken after the fleet made its way up the Florida coast in light conditions, having wrestled its way through a large spectator fleet.

The crew of Tokio, the leader of the W60 class before the loss of its mast midway through leg five, are keen to demonstrate their supremacy with a final-leg win which would give them three leg victories out of the six.