Sailing: Repair work has its reward: Cup fleet face up to Channel challenge

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AS 90 yachts left Cowes for the 206- mile race around the English Channel, including the remaining 22 of the 23 Admiral's Cup competitors, hundreds more were arriving for the opening of Cowes Week today.

Work had continued throughout the night on Thursday after several yachts had been damaged in the opening inshore race of the Admiral's Cup. Willi Illbruck, owner of the German 40-footer, Pinta, had calmed down after a passionate appeal from his team captain, Jens Christensen, to reverse his decision to withdraw the yacht.

It worked and so did the crew to rebuild the keel and repair the rudder. Alongside them the Japanese team were working on their 40-footer, Nippon, the French on Corum Diamant and, in Hamble, the British were busy repairing GBE International. Pinta's reward was to be first round the first mark from France's Corum with Britain fifth.

In the 50-foot class, the British team captain, Graham Walker's Indulgence, was again to the fore, though the best start was made by Bert Dolk, of the Netherlands, in Pro- Motion VII, and first again to the first mark was Syd Fischer's Ragamuffin for Australia. France's Corum hit the mark, was protesting and was last of the class.

The Dutch started life as the only two-boat team in the Cup, but they now share that with Ireland after the Irish were told that the rules prevented them substituting another yacht for the one Harold Cudmore sank in the first race. Their two-tonner, skippered by Gordon Maguire, was making amends by leading his class from Italy's Larouge and Britain's Provezza Source, already flying a protest flag.

Last night Cudmore said he had received support from four of the other seven teams, though the Germans were reluctant, to be allowed to substitute the German one-tonner Thomas I Punkt for the sunk Fram XI, chartered from King Harald of Norway. The Australians, French and Italians will give their verdict after the Channel Race. The organisers have indicated they will allow substitution if all the opponents agree.

Entries for Cowes Week are at a healthy 750 with the day boat classes providing not just numbers but quality. There will be 49 Etchells racing including, this weekend, one steered by the world champion, Dennis Conner. He is combining being on parade for his Whitbread 60 sponsor Winston with an early recce on the water in which the 1995 world championship will be sailed.

There is also considerable interest in the Britannia Cup, which is sailed on Wednesday. It is named after the yacht scuttled south of the Isle of Wight after the death of its owner, King George V.

Originally there was a plan to make the course a circumnavigation of the island and to invite the Admiral's Cup yachts to compete and the Whitbread yachts to go for a record. This has been dropped, though the record was shattered on Thursday by Switzerland's Pierre Fehlmann whose new ketch, Merit Cup, knocked 51 minutes off the previous record of 5hr 44min 17sec established by Mike Slade's Ocean Leopard.