Sailing: Smith hungry for Wolf

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A SPIRITED START in stiff breezes saw the British Admiral's Cup team leave the Solent in good shape but facing a strong threat from the Netherlands yesterday at the start of the deciding Wolf Rock Race. Choosing the right sails for the conditions may prove to have been a crucial decision.

The big boat, Venture 99, skippered by Lawrie Smith was one of the leading trio, alongside America's Idler and Innovision, of the Netherlands, as the 26-yacht fleet dropped their spinnakers and settled into a beat out to the middle of the English Channel.

Smith went into the race knowing he needed a good display to erase the memory of his collision with Idler in the final inshore race on Monday, which forced Smith to retire to avoid being disqualified.

Behind them in the Sydney 40 class, Chris Law, Graham Bailey and Mark Heeley in Nautica were closing on another British boat, Turbo UK, sailing for the Commonwealth, with only the Americans in Blue Yankee and the Dutch boat Trust ahead of them.

In the Mumm 36 class, Adrian Stead and Tim Powell on Barlo Plastics made up for a slow start by driving up from seventh to third between the forts which guard the entrance to Portsmouth Harbour and the Bembridge Ledge turning buoy at the east end of the Isle of Wight.

Ahead of them were Bouwe Bekking in the Netherlands boat Mean Machine and Gordon Maguire, unusually well up the field for Australia in Atara. Three hours later Barlo Plastics, Britain's fastest small boat in the series, was in the lead.

Britain shares the overall lead in the nine-team competition with the Netherlands, six ahead of Europe, Germany (12.5) and the US (13.5). However, with each place counting 3.5 points in this final race, there was no room for error and with Italy half a point behind the Americans, any of these six teams could snatch the trophy.

Only the big boats will sail the full 407-mile course round Wolf Rock, seven miles off Land's End. The two smaller classes have 333 miles to travel, turning at Helston light, north-east of The Lizard. They all finish at Cowes and are expected home tomorrow afternoon.

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