Sailing: Netherlands on the brink of history

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THE NETHERLANDS were racing to their first win in Admiral's Cup history last night as Great Britain, who started the deciding Wolf Rock Race as co-leaders, saw their grip slipping.

As the two smaller classes, the Sydney 40 and Mumm 36, turned at the Helston Light off the coast of Cornwall to start what was expected to be a fast 140-mile run home to the finish at North Head buoy, just west of the entrance to the Solent, the 36ft Barlo Plastics was fourth in its class and just six minutes behind the leader, Germany's Jeantex. And it was half that distance again to the third boat, the Netherlands' Mean Machine.

That was a gap which could easily be closed by a crew who have produced the most determined performance for Britain in the Cup. But the 40ft Nautica was last and nearly 40 minutes behind the leaders, Merit Cup for Europe, with the Dutch boat fourth. In such fast reaching conditions, to make up such a margin was a tall order. That Chris Law and Graham Bailey could fall so far behind is a matter for speculation but could be due to gear damage.

Britain's big boat, Venture 99, skippered by Lawrie Smith, went round Wolf Rock, 35 miles further west, in a pack of four that included Italy, Europe and the Netherlands. However, a mile astern of the leading 50, Idler of the United States, Smith jumped to second and gave chase after the defending champions. Five of the nine competing teams are still in with a chance of collecting the trophy for the world championship of offshore racing.