Sailing: Long on spirit, short on funds: A British challenger for the Whitbread Race has designs on success. Stuart Alexander reports

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The Independent Online
THE first Whitbread 60 boat designed and built in Britain for the 1993-94 Round the World Race was unveiled in Southampton yesterday by Lord Brabazon of Tara, himself a keen campaigner of the much smaller Bembridge Redwing class of dayboat.

The Dolphin Circumnavigation Project, a charity set up for the disabled, has already received pounds 1m of funding from the Foundation for Sport and the Arts. That has secured the yacht, designed by Rob Humphreys, and built by Rob Lispett's Vision Yachts at Cowes.

But the sign of the times was written down the side of the gleaming white hull. It read: 'Sponsor Required'. The project is looking for a further pounds 750,000 from a sponsor to put the name on the yacht, and two further supporters to the tune of pounds 60,000 each.

The skipper, James Hatfield, is waiting to see how the crew adapt to the business of driving a racing yacht. All the crew members have disabilities. Hatfield, himself, is recovering from a hole in the heart operation. As the project progresses people are applying for places and there are three Americans and a Norwegian among the initial dozen.

But Hatfield insists there has been no compromise on design. 'We gave Humphreys carte blanche and he has done a first-class job,' he said. 'There have been no limitations. It is a state of the art yacht and it can win the race.'

Hatfield has visited New Zealand to meet the skipper and crew of Yamaha, the first of the new Whitbread 60 boats, the new breed of smaller yacht specifically devised for the race. He feels that his own yacht is more easily driven and easier to handle. 'Humphreys has told us that during surges in the southern ocean we could be hitting speeds up to the mid-30s of knots,' he said.

As part of an expected 25,000 miles of training and evaluation, Hatfield expects the yacht to make two trans-Atlantic crossings early in the New Year, but is aware of the urgent need for funds. 'I would hate to see things slow down,' he said. 'It would be a terrific shame, having come so far, to have the project stumble now.'

In the southern Pacific, the crew of British Steel II continue to limp northwards as they recover from a dismasting. The boat was lying in third place of the 10 yachts in the British Steel Challenge when the mishap occurred on Wednesday.

The boat taking over that position, Hofbrau, is making slow progress as the heavy weather which has pounded the fleet moderates and more southerly winds are forecast. Pete Goss, the skipper of Hofbrau, avoided the same calamity as British Steel II, although the suspect rigging screw which he had also rotated from the forestay to the aft shroud, broke. 'The rig seems okay and we have been forced to limp north due to heavy weather, with winds gusting up to 69 knots and very rough seas,' Goss said.

Still in the lead is Richard Merriweather in Commercial Union with John Chittenden 21 miles behind in Nuclear Electric.

BRITISH STEEL CHALLENGE ROUND-THE- WORLD RACE (Second leg, Rio de Janeiro to Hobart) Leading positions (with miles to Hobart): 1 Commercial Union 2,843; 2 Nuclear Electric 2,864; 3 Hofbrau 2,976; 4 Heath Insured 3,055; 5 Group 4 3,083; 6 Coopers and Lybrand 3,123; 7 Pride of Teesside 3,179; 8 Interspray 3,385; 9 Rhone-Poulenc 3,633. Dismasted: British Steel.( Information supplied by BT).

(Photograph omitted)

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