Sailing: Mishaps mar Smith's unhappy return: Britain's beleaguered skipper arrives back in Hamble as New Zealand Endeavour continues to set pace on the first leg. Stuart Alexander reports

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The Independent Online
THE never-ending twists of fate which resulted in Lawrie Smith being forced to withdraw Spain's Fortuna from the Whitbread Round the World Race took another turn yesterday as he arrived back in Hamble minus not just his radical mizzen mast, which fell down after 24 hours of racing, but without the main mast as well.

The yacht had been forced to motor home from Ushant, even taking time to call into Dartmouth on Sunday afternoon for extra diesel, after the second calamity hit the yacht on Saturday night.

Although radio silence had been maintained and the crew, already unhappy to broadcast further damage, were under strict orders to make no comment, Smith himself seemed prepared to shoulder the blame for a failure in the race of near farcical proportions.

'Our biggest worry was about being off the pace and, as it turned out, we were well on the pace,' he said. 'It was the equipment that failed us and you don't have to tell me we specified the equipment.'

That was certainly true of the boomkin struts projecting from the stern to help support both the huge fibreglass mizzen mast, whose off-beat design aroused such comment, and the gigantic sails being flown on it. But Smith put the loss of the main mast down to the failure of a turning block. It had, he said, been damaged when the mizzen rig crashed down.

There had already been trouble when the mainsail boom buckled in storm-force winds while Fortuna was sailing across the Bay of Biscay. They then carried a storm trysail and blast reacher until the final transformation into a crippled motor boat.

Smith's enforced retirement from the race was at the insistence of the Spanish tobacco company, Tabacalera. Smith would not say whether there were any payment or contractual problems over the pounds 1.5m campaign he was masterminding. Yesterday he met with Javier Visiers, the yacht's original designer, and on Thursday he meets the managing director of Tabacalera, the half state-owned company which owns the Fortuna cigarette brand.

On arrival in Hamble, the crew left the yacht in a hurry, though some senior members returned after a sleep. On deck were all the sails, in the cockpit three life rafts and the debris of as many 12-packs of beer.

Over 2,000 miles down the track, Grant Dalton in New Zealand Endeavour still heads the 14-strong fleet in which the maxis, of which Dalton's is one, are racing boat-for- boat against the smaller, new class of Whitbread 60s.

Chris Dickson's Tokio is the leading 60, sandwiched by the second maxi, Merit Cup. He is then chased by two other 60s, Dennis Conner's Winston and Javier de la Gandara's Galicia. Britain's Matt Humphries in the Dolphin and Youth 60 is over 140 miles behind Dickson. Ross Field, whose Yamaha was slugging it out with Tokio, is now 50 miles behind.

(Map omitted)