Sailing: Records set to fall on last leg: Stuart Alexander says favourable weather will drive fleet safely home

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The Independent Online
WITH the Whitbread Race fleet gobbling up the final 1,000 miles of their 32,000 around the world, records are set to be demolished when they arrive at Southampton this weekend.

The leading group of the maxi, New Zealand Endeavour, and the W60s of Tokio, Yamaha and Winston could all knock three days off the 17 set by Peter Blake's Steinlager II in 1990 for this stage of the race.

If the computer is to be believed, Grant Dalton will take Endeavour across the finish line near the QEII berth in Southampton on Friday evening and if the weather forecasters are to be believed there will be plenty of wind to drive him home through any adverse tides.

Yesterday Dalton had a slender 26-mile lead over the first W60, the still-closing Tokio of Chris Dickson, the Kiwi America's Cup skipper determined to stamp even firmer his class and strength on the W60 field.

Dickson had an even thinner lead of 18 miles over yet another Kiwi in a Japanese- sponsored boat, Ross Field's Yamaha. Taking advantage of Tokio's dismasting on the last leg, Field had expertly wriggled out of the grip of the Doldrums to take the overall lead away from Dickson.

Field also disposed, by ten and a half vital hours, of the man who had seemed set to profit most from Dickson's disaster, Britain's Lawrie Smith in Intrum Justitia.

Smith struggled into Fort Lauderdale and so was forced to go for broke on this final leg by going north and looking for a big westerly system under Canada.

Smith missed the fast track by a narrow margin, and instead had to join the procession yesterday still in fifth place. But he will hope to pull back the boat ahead of him, the British entry Reebok (formerly Dolphin and Youth), though skipper Matt Humphries and his young crew will be determined to hold on to their best position on any leg and join the winners for a Saturday night pint of the sponsor's product.