Sailing: Ketch the new wave

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LAWRIE SMITH yesterday unveiled his updated Spanish maxi-ketch, Fortuna, which will compete in the Whitbread Round the World race beginning in September. It is a breathtaking transformation into the wild and wonderful by the designers Javier Visier, Ian Howlett and Hugh Welbourn. If it fails, it will be seen as a reckless gamble to beat the new generation of maxis; if it succeeds, it will be called genius.

At Rob Lipsett's yard in Cowes, the boat has been made longer and heavier, the new slim-finned keel and torpedo bulb moved slightly forward, and a new rudder as deep as the keel fitted. The main mast has been moved forward a metre.

But it is the second mast, at the stern, which is unlike any seen before. Behind it, twin struts project over the water, like a sternsprit rather than a bowsprit.

The nearly 100ft-tall wing section has been made in glass fibre by Carbospars at an estimated cost of pounds 65,000. 'The mast is significantly better aerodynamically than a conventional aluminium mast with all its rigging,' Angus Melrose, of Carbospars, said.

At the deck, its oval base is about 21 inches wide, tapering to seven inches at the top. Rigging is minimal, to comply with regulations and it cannot rotate. It will carry a boom 23ft long, adding a huge area of sail power.

Among the crew is Neal McDonald, the former International 14 world champion, who will sail with Smith in trials beginning on Friday and has had to abandon plans to sail for Australia in the Admiral's Cup.