Sailing: Smith is ordered out of Whitbread

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The Independent Online
LAWRIE SMITH was ordered out of the Whitbread Round the World Race yesterday as his Spanish masters decided that enough was enough for their maxi yacht, Fortuna. As he turned back to Southampton, his main rival, Grant Dalton put his maxi, New Zealand Endeavour, into the lead over two of the smaller Whitbread 60s, Chris Dickson in Tokio and Ross Field in Yamaha.

The decision by the Spanish, 937 miles into the first leg of 5,932 miles, is a blow to Smith, mastermind of what is being made to look like a pounds 1.5m failure to make the five-year old, stretched 82-footer competitive with the modern generation of maxis. The yacht had undergone major modifications after earlier, more conventional attempts to turn the single-masted sloop into a twin-masted ketch had failed to produce an increase in pace.

The changes included the installation of a new mizzen mast enabling the boat to carry a huge sail area. In the first 24 hours of the Whitbread race she was showing good speed and disputing the lead with Grant Dalton's NZ Endeavour. But, in the strong following winds, she was carrying her biggest sail, a 400 square metre gennaker, when the rigging failed. The load would have been about 10 tonnes at the time.

The mast came down and with it any hope of stealing a march on the first leg. One crewman, Russell Pickthall, had joined the boat when very ill, a second, George Heffernan, had two teeth knocked out after the start, the cook was ill, but recovering, and then Dave Powys, a vastly experienced member of Smith's crew, lost the tips of two fingers of his left hand when they were caught in the turning block controlling the sheet for the mainsail.

Smith was confident they could prove the boat's potential on the big breeze downhill runs of the second leg to Fremantle, Australia, and was arranging for a replacement mizzen of the same design to be built by CarboSpars at Hamble and air-freighted to the first stopover at Punta del Este, Uruguay. But the decision was taken out of his hands by the board of Tabacalera, the Spanish state tobacco monopoly which is funding Smith, in Madrid.

The yacht's original designer and project manager, Javier Visier, said the yacht had been withdrawn because, after losing the mizzen mast, she could not win. 'The whole reason for doing what we did, to hire Lawrie Smith and an international crew for so much money, was to win,' he said.

He had argued against the decision to withdraw by Tabacalera and still felt that both Smith and the boat were capable of winning. 'But the whole of the Spanish press was against us since the appointment of Smith,' he said.

Positions, Sporting Digest, page 37

Grant Dalton race report, page 36