Sailing: Ragamuffin looks strong for Australia

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The Independent Online
THE THREAT of a big breeze to test the 252 yachts in the 605-mile Fastnet Race today was keeping navigators busy in Cowes yesterday. Once again the race will decide the winner of the Champagne Mumm Admiral's Cup, once again it looks as if the smaller boats could have to put up with the bad weather breaks, and once again the record of two days, 12hr 41min and 15sec set by the American yacht, Nirvana, in 1985 is under threat.

Following the bow-destroying crash of the leaders - Italy's 50-footer Mandrake - in the short races of Thursday, the bookmakers make second-placed Australia favourite to win the cup for the first time since 1979, a year sadly remembered for the deaths and destruction caused by gales.

The Italians have a slender two- point lead and two strong yachts in the two-tonner Larouge, skippered by Lorenzo Bortolotti, and the one-tonner Brava Q8, with Paul Cayard (who is joined by Francesco de Angelis as fourth helmsman) in control, but no 50-footer.

Syd Fischer's Ragamuffin, for Australia, would have looked strong in any case and with skipper Peter Gilmour, who has established Italian residency in case of a call from Cayard for his America's Cup campaign, in form that could prove the clincher.

For the British there are some established reputations to restore and some new ones to build. There is no hope of them coming back to win from seventh place, but then the defending, high-budget French are looking uncomfortable, too. Glyn Charles' young crew on the one-tonner GBE International can stake a further claim for support in 1995 and Stuart Childerley is after a big win in the two-tonner, Provezza Source.

The weather, too, will play an important role. The forecast had the start at 1.30pm in a gentle eight to 10 knots to take the fleet down the Solent and into the English Channel. That was expected to fade in the evening which could lead to everyone rafting up under anchor near Portland Bill waiting for the tide to run again in their favour.

But Sunday could see the breeze steadily building to 25 knots and maybe over 30 and swinging from the north-west into the west. That would be perfect for the big boats, which could turn round the rock off the south-west of Ireland before it backed into the west. While they were then reaching home to Plymouth under spinnaker, the smaller boats would be beating uncomfortably upwind.

The additional area of focus will be the performance of the Whitbread race boats sailing, for them, not much more than a training session. The new Bruce Farr-designed maxis, Grant Dalton's New Zealand Endeavour, Pierre Fehlmann's Merit Cup and Daniel Malle's La Poste face up to Fortuna, the radical hybrid that British skipper Lawrie Smith has made the Spanish entry.

Also present will be the first gathering of the new water-ballasted Whitbread 60s, including Britain's Matt Humphries in the Dolphin & Youth Project, Brad Butterworth skippering Dennis Conner's Winston, Roger Nilson in the pan-European Intrum Justitia, Guido Maisto in Italy's soon-to-be- changed-again Brooksfield, and Nance Frank's US Women's Challenge.

(Photograph omitted)