Sailing: Pumped-up Reebok comes of age

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A MIDNIGHT choir singing 'Land Of Hope And Glory' called up some of the old spirit of adventure and derring-do as Matt Humphries brought the only British entry in the Whitbread Round The World Race, the 60-foot Reebok, into Southampton's Ocean Village in the earliest hours of yesterday morning.

They were fifth on this the final leg of the 32,000-mile race, their best performance and one of which they were justly proud. While the winners, Ross Field's Yamaha, Grant Dalton's Endeavour and the might-have- been Chris Dickson in Tokio, were seeking relief from the post-race parties, the Reebok crew were ready to start their celebrations.

But they were moved by the warmth of the welcome after nine months in which a great deal has changed for them all. They set out as a boat called Dolphin & Youth, the name resulting from a shotgun marriage, brokered by the Royal Yachting Association, of a project for the partially disabled and a cashless youth team.

They have come back as an integrated Whitbread crew, with a global company as their sponsor, who have coped with losing their rudder in the Southern Ocean on the second leg, sheering keelbolts 1,000 miles out from Cape Horn, pumping out the leak and being permanently ready to abandon ship on the fourth and hull degradation on the fifth.

'Finally the things we had learned came together on the last leg, and beating a boat like Galicia in some of the hardest conditions was very encouraging,' Humphries said.

They did well to survive the flattening gales which gave the fleet such a fizzing ride over the last 48 hours of the race, but Humphries takes greatest pride in having proved that youth can compete in this race. After 32,000 miles, it is easy to forget that he is only 22.

'There's a lot of slagging off of British youth, but we have shown they can perform,' he said. 'We have also had good times all the way through. There has never been a time when I was put on the spot to sort out a major dispute. I think it's made me a lot more mature.'

He knows he has been fortunate. 'I am chuffed,' he said. 'I am a very, very lucky 22-year old. Tony Vernon, one of the Venture Abilities trustees, gave me that chance and I owe him a great deal.'

Dawn Riley, the skipper of the all-women-crewed Heineken, still has plenty of problems to sort out. Having lost their rudder for the third time yesterday they had the maxi Uruguay Natural standing alongside as they drifted towards the Scillies, waiting for the weather to abate so they can fit an emergency rudder supplied by the Uruguayans.