Sailing: Italians turn to attack

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The Independent Online
The pace quickened in the Fastnet Race yesterday. The big trimarans, competing for the first time, making the finish in Plymouth, the Whitbread 60s and maxis due in for breakfast today, while the Admiral's Cup fleet rounded the lighthouse rock of south-west Ireland and are set for a good run home.

With the second-placed New Zealand team's tactic of heading offshore and south to find better wind having failed to bring the advantage they hoped, the window has been further opened for the Italian trio to attack the United States, the overall leaders going into the 610-mile finale for the Cup.

Their 40-footer Brava Q8 was just holding off German rival Pinta to lead that division while the American MK Cafe was down in sixth. Their big boat, Madina, was second, just five seconds behind the first cupper round the rock at 16.55. America's Flash Gordon, and their Mumm 36, Breeze, was third, compared with America's Jameson in sixth.

With each place point in each division worth four points that was enough, if the race were stopped there and then, to allow the defending Italian champions to repeat what they had done in 1995 and snatch the cup from the leading Americans.

But there was still over 250 miles to go and anything, including gear failure, could happen. There was a strong hope that Britain would improve on their overall standing of sixth out of seven as their 36-footer, Tim Barrett's Bradamante skippered by John Merricks and Ian Walker, held a lead of nearly an hour over their nearest rival. They were also heading for a top-scoring 36 in the whole series and one of the top three overall.

Graham Walker's 45-ft Corum Indulgence, with Chris Law, Jeremy Robinson, Stuart Childerley and Graham Bailey sharing the helming, was lying third on handicap, and the 40-footer, Tony Buckingham's Easy Oars, was making progress, moving up to fifth and chasing fourth-placed G-Net of Australia.

All the cuppers were due round by the early hours of this morning to finish between early evening today and midnight. At least 12 hours ahead of them would be the maxis, including the five Ericsson 80s, led by Ross Field in Banque Internationale a Luxembourg, and the nine Whitbread 60s.

Tuning up against each other for the first time, Grant Dalton's led the Whitbread 60s in Merit Cup over Britain's Lawrie Smith, just 300 yards ahead with less than 200 miles to go.

But none could match the big multis, in, done, dusted, and won by Laurent Bourgnon's Primagaz, who averaged 22 knots for the last 250 miles.