Sailing: Merriweather set fair for finish: British Steel Challenge fleet closes in on Southampton


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The Independent Online

Fair winds continue to push home the 10 yachts in the British Steel Challenge with the leaders now just over 1,000 miles from Southampton and the two contenders for setting the shortest time, Nuclear Electric and Group 4, in close company.

The south-westerlies were skilfully exploited by Richard Tudor in British Steel II, who put in a 24-hour run of 249 miles. As John Chittenden has built up an eight-hour advantage from the three previous legs in Nuclear Electric he will be hoping that the weather does not play any tricks in the final straight.

But he, like all the others, knows that the race could still be won and lost in the strongly tidal English Channel. Tactics will be important right to the end, particularly as the very even performance of all the yachts has kept them roughly equal throughout this last leg, though Pete Goss, in Hofbrau, was out on a limb for a while. And the crew of Heath Insured, in last place, have had to cope with recovering from when their crewman, Bill Vincent, was lost overboard.

Richard Merriweather reports from Commercial Union that he is studying up to 20 faxes giving the weather synopsis every day and Chittenden has made the study of weather routeing a prime task throughout the race. 'Whoever can keep up the concentration will come out ahead,' Greta Thomas, on Nuclear, said.

In Italy, a fleet of 43 has gathered at Punta Ala to contest the second leg of the Champagne Mumm World Cup, the first of which was at Key West, Florida, in January and the third is the Admiral's Cup in Britain at the end of July.

Mainly racers sailing under the relatively new International Measurement System, they come from Italy, Greece and Monaco. The programme consists of four short inshore races, a 120-mile and a 25-mile coastal race, and a final inshore triangular race.

BRITISH STEEL CHALLENGE: Fourth leg (Cape Town to Southampton): Leading positions, with miles to the finish: 1 Commercial Union 1,187; 2= Nuclear Electric and Group 4 1,202; 4 Rhone-Poulenc 1,226; 5 British Steel II 1,250; 6 Coopers & Lybrand 1,275; 7 Pride of Teesside 1,288; 8 Hofbrau 1,296; 9 Interspray 1,317; 10 Heath Insured 1,519.

Information supplied by BT.