Sailing: Smith's surgery restores reputation: Crew of Intrum Justitia rewarded after being taken to the limit

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The Independent Online
IT WAS a big win in every sense as Lawrie Smith scored a victory that was as emphatic as it was daring in the second leg of the Whitbread Round the World Race.

Smith has never been hungrier for success, and the satisfaction in a job well done was just as evident on the faces of the crew he inherited when he took over as skipper of Intrum Justitia.

His last entry into Fremantle, at the helm of Rothmans and match racing to a 28-second win over Pierre Fehlmann's Merit in 1989, had been a grandstand nailbiter. This latest win was fashioned with no one to see, no one to applaud in the lonely stretches of wild and icy Southern Ocean, always living on the edge of disaster, pushing boat and men 24 hours a day for 25 days.

The lad from Lancashire had a lot to prove when he took over as skipper of the pounds 3m campaign just a week before the start of the treacherous 8,000-mile second leg from Uruguay a month ago.

The boat had failed to live up to its promise. The crew, drawn from all over Europe, were a talented bunch of individuals that had failed to mesh as a team, and Smith had fallen flat on his face with the early exit from the race of his Spanish-backed maxi Fortuna.

Britain's No 1 yachtsman was suffering from a credibility gap which needed fast and decisive surgery. When the chance unexpectedly appeared he grabbed it with both hands.

Paul Standbridge, a long- time ally of Smith who had joined Intrum as 12th crew member for what is regarded as the hardest leg of the race, said: 'Smith arrived, got the whip out and said, off we go. It was pretty scary at times, very scary, but that's why I go. If I wasn't scared I wouldn't go.'

The crew, with a total of three British, still represent nine nations but all were agreed on one thing. They had been as close to the limit as they thought they could go. Their reward was not only a Heineken Trophy for a leg win but the Omega Trophy for setting a world record 425 miles in a day and a leg up the leaderboard to second W60 overall.

Still ahead of them, but second to Smith by two hours on this leg, Chris Dickson, in Tokio, the yacht that has now taken a three-hour overall lead for both W60s and maxis, was happy to say that the cushion of 16 hours in the bank from winning the first leg in the W60s had allowed him to take his foot off the throttle rather than risk damage.

'We sailed a little conservatively, Intrum made a fantastic break,' said Dickson, who refrained from making any reference to fellow-countryman Grant Dalton, skipper of the maxi New Zealand Endeavour, which had been fastest of the 14 yachts on the first leg and most of the second.

Dalton trailed the Swiss maxi Merit Cup, skippered by Pierre Fehlmann, into Fremantle by only an hour and 46 minutes despite losing the top half of his mizzen mast 10 days out.

A Heineken to Fehlmann but a moral victory to Dalton, who also praised Smith's peformance and promised Dickson, 'I expect to be in the lead again by the end of the third leg in Auckland'.

Ross Field, another Japanese-backed Kiwi skippering Yamaha, made it first, second and third for the W60s ahead of the maxis and even then Javier de la Gandara, nursing hull delamination on his Spanish 60 Galicia, split the two maxis.

But the final word went to Smith and it was a warning from a man with the bit between his teeth. First he praised his crew saying, 'They were unlucky on the first leg. We have got more skill on the boat, she is as good as the rest of them. The navigation was superb.

'It is important that we beat Tokio and we can beat them again. Once they get used to it they might give up.'

WHITBREAD ROUND THE WORLD RACE Second leg: (Punta del Este to Fremantle); Positions and miles to the finish: Maxi class: 1 Merit Cup 25 days 21hr 11min 34sec; 2 New Zealand Endeavour 25:22:57:23; 3 La Poste 783 miles; 4 Uruguay Natural 1,520. Whitbread 60s: 1 Intrum Justitia 25:14 39:06; 2 Tokio 25:16:39:36; 3 Yamaha 25:20 27:51; 4 Galicia '93 Pescanova 25:22:10:90; 5 Winston 145; 6 Hetman Sahaidachny 1,159; 7 Women's Challenge 1,179; 8 Odessa 1,543; 9 Dolphin and Youth 1,730.

(Photograph omitted)