Sailing: Race record eclipsed by Dalton: Whitbread Round The World Race

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With a storming final flourish, Grant Dalton last night drove his Maxi yacht, New Zealand Endeavour, to a record-breaking victory in the first leg of the Whitbread Round the World Race.

His Bruce Farr-designed ketch has achieved an astonishing 11 per cent increase in speed over the previous fastest time set in the last race by Peter Blake in Steinlager 2.

Dalton had been cautious about beating the time of 25 days 20 hours, 46 minutes and 27 seconds. In the event he bettered the time by one day 12 hours 57 minutes and 25 seconds in posting a time of 24 days seven hours 19 minutes and two seconds. Half the fleet of 14 were also on target to break the record.

'It's unbelievable,' Dalton said. 'We will all savour this one, especially as it was a good one to win and sets a pattern.' For those of his crew who had been on Steinlager this was the seventh consecutive Whitbread leg win.

'We have learned that the maxis and the 60s go at about the same speed,' he said. 'We had expected the maxis to be better in the lighter airs and the 60s faster in a breeze, but they are about the same in all conditions. I've been very stressed and under a lot of presure, but now we're here we're OK. There is no damage to the boat or the crew. We're in great shape.

'The race was a matter of constant pressure on the opposition. It was like a fighter who keeps knocking away and putting the jabs in.'

At the same time he had been conservative on tactics. 'That is the way we'll sail this whole race. There's no need to take chances on the left or right hand sides of the course. We just keep going down the middle.'

Chris Dickson, in Tokio, was less than 40 miles behind and making quick progress. Pierre Fehlmann's Merit Cup had another 50 miles to the finish and all three would be in port overnight. As the wind blew strong and true, Dalton held off Dickson, the man who has dogged him every step of the 6,000- mile journey from Southampton, in the smaller Tokio, and his main rival for the Heineken Trophy on the Uruguayan first leg, Switzerland's Fehlmann.

The pressure, which has been the feature of the new, hard, professional racing in this sixth Whitbread, was particularly intense slightly further back as Spain's Javier de la Gandara in Galicia, Dennis Conner in Winston, Ross Field in Yamaha and Roger Nilson aboard Intrum Justitia all made rapid progress to the finish line.

Field reported that he had come close to losing his mast when the tensioner on the mast-head back- stay slipped. At the time the wind had been increasing. 'Suddenly the wind went up to 32 knots and we had to get the masthead gennaker down,' Field said. 'When the backstay slipped some quick thinking allowed us to cut the halyard of the spinnaker, and it dropped in the water.

'But it saved the rig and the breeze then went up to 45 knots so we carried on for a while under mainsail only,' he said, adding that they had seen Winston also blowing out a masthead spinnaker.

Dennis Conner's Winston also sustained damage when she was hit by a 50-knot squall. Brad Butterworth, the co-skipper, said: 'We had a massive wipe-out, blowing the chute (spinnaker) and breaking the boom.'

The boat is also reported to have suffered a breakage to the cable to one of the steering wheels and a rip to the mainsail, since mended, when the boom was broken. She is due in this afternoon.

WHITBREAD ROUND THE WORLD RACE First leg (Southampton to Punta del Este, Uru) Positions, with miles to finish: 1 New Zealand Endeavour (NZ, maxi) finished; 2 Tokio (Japan, Whitbread 60) 44; 3 Merit Cup (Swit, maxi) 114; 4 Galicia '93 Pescanova (Sp, W60) 156; 5 Yamaha (Japan, W60) 176; 6 Winston (US, W60) 198; 7 Intrum Justitia (Europe, W60) 209; 8 La Poste (Fr, maxi) 299; 9 Dolphin and Youth (GB, W60) 417; 10 Brooksfield (It, W60) 429; 11 US Women's Challenge (US, W60) 674; 12 Uruguay Natural (Uru, maxi) 738; 13 Hetman Sahaidachny (Ukr, W60) 765; 14 Odessa (Ukr, W60) 3,143.

(Photograph omitted)

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