Sailing: New Zealand mast passes jury muster

Angry action off the water was again proving as big a distraction as the racing in the western Solent yesterday as Britain used the Berthon Source regatta not just to get fit for this week's Champagne Mumm Admiral's Cup but to resolve a few grievances.

The Italians and Britain joined the Americans in asking whether the mast being used by New Zealand's big boat, Numbers, skippered by Russell Coutts, was either legal or correctly handicapped. The query centred on the way the 49-footer's mast is stepped on the deck, rather than on the keel and through the deck, and its ability to be hinged forward or back to change the centre of effort though the sails. The Lymington jury was convinced that, as it could not rotate, it was legal.

More bizarre was the reaction of the jury to a protest by Britain's Graham Walker on behalf of the 45ft Corum Indulgence to their Scandinavian rival, Thomas Blixt's Investor, a sister ship which has a significant handicap advantage.

The jury first said it could not hear a protest as no flag had been flown and the defendant had not been informed. Indulgence tried again and the jury then said the protest flag had been too inconspicuous, even though it was noted on their observation boat.

On the water, the Source Regatta has been encouraging for Britain. Indulgence finished joint top in its class, but lost the tie-breaker to America's Flash Gordon even if the sceptical think Coutts taking things quietly.

Easy Oars, Tony Buckingham's ILC 40, was always improving, scoring second and third yesterday, to be second overall to Germany's Pinta. A win for John Merricks and Ian Walker in the fifth race for Mumm 36s shows they can be up there with the best.

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