Sailing: Maxi rides tide of expectation

The ideal conditions forecast for Cowes this weekend should result in records being broken. Stuart Alexander reports

A buzz of expectation was sweeping through Cowes last night as more than 1200 yachts prepared for the annual race around the Isle of Wight in conditions that appear perfect for breaking records.

Tides have dictated an early start for this year's Hoya Round the Island Race, with the competitors crossing the Royal Yacht Squadron Line in groups from 6.30am. Hopes are high that the brisk east to north- easterly breeze that has been dominant for the past couple of days will be maintained, giving fast conditions down the western Solent and out past the Needles rocks and lighthouse.

The monohull record of 5hr 12min 3sec is held by Mike Slade's Hoya Longabarda. The 84-foot maxi is back to lower that mark, though this time the boat is being steered by the Welshman Eddie Warden Owen, a former America's Cup competitor and coach.

The man who set that record, Chris Law, will also be racing, but in his new role as principal helmsman of the big boat in the 1997 British Admiral's Cup team, Graham Walker's Corum Indulgence.

In Cherbourg, France, as 16 yachts prepared to start tomorrow's Round Europe Race, plans to announce a rival to the Whitbread Round The World Race have been delayed.

A move by the former Whitbread skipper, Pierre Fehlmann, to organise a race in identical 80-foot Grand Mistral yachts had to be dropped as sponsors failed to support the event. However, building of the yachts continued and five of them, now controlled by the Banque International de Luxembourg, are sailing in the Round Europe.

It has long been expected that a race around the world would be organised for them, though the details were not fixed. Start and finish points have yet to be named, as have stopovers, with one plan calling for the yachts to take only a 24-hour break from racing at three "pit stops" and completing the course in less than 100 days.

At the centre of negotiations has been Sweden's Ludde Ingvall, who recently skippered one of the yachts involved, Nicorette, to a transatlantic crossing in record time. He said "yachtsmen are still expecting and dreaming of taking these offshore greyhounds for a race around the world" but negotiations have yet to be completed.

Britain's Tony Bullimore makes his first return to racing in the Round Europe event following his rescue by the Australian Navy after his yacht capsized in the icy Southern Ocean in January during the Vendee Globe singlehanded race. Another hero of that race, Pete Goss, has withdrawn from the Round Europe as he is negotiating a book contract.

The first yachts in the Atlantic Challenge Cup, to commemorate the 1905 transatlantic record that Ingvall broke, are expected to finish this morning. They are led by the 183ft schooner Adix.

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