Sailing: South Africa back on round world map: Stuart Alexander on a new format for the seventh great adventure

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The Independent Online
SOUTH AFRICA is back on the course for the seventh Whitbread Round the World Race in 1997/98 after what will have been an absence of 12 years. Cape Town will be the first stopover in a new 31,620- mile format, increasing the legs from six to nine, announced yesterday by the race director, Ian Bailey-Willmot.

Consideration is also being given to the race being decided on a high-scoring points system, with each leg rated according to its length rather than the overall cumulative time which has been the system since the first race in 1973.

The Whitbread 60 is confirmed as the sole design of yacht, and restrictions on sail sizes are likely to be lifted. The entry fee is rising from pounds 18,000 last time to between pounds 200,000 and pounds 300,000.

The race, scheduled to start from Southampton in mid- September, will open with its longest leg, 7,350 miles to the Cape. To keep it a downwind race, though, a route may direct them out into the southern Atlantic round Fernando, Trinidade or Tristan de Cunha to avoid a long upwind beat to the finish.

It will continue 4,600 miles through the Southern Ocean, eliminating Prince Edward Island as a mark of the course, to Fremantle, Western Australia, take in a new leg to Sydney, and be followed by a dash across the Tasman Sea going round the top of North Island, New Zealand, to Auckland.

The fleet then slogs across the bottom of the Pacific and around Cape Horn, but the South American stop has yet to be decided. It is understood that Punta del Este, which the fleet visited twice in the race that finished earlier this year, could figure again if guarantees about providing facilities for hauling the boats out of the water can be given by the Uruguayan government. Otherwise, the race organisers are looking at options in Argentina (Mar del Plata) and Brazil (Sao Paulo).

Fort Lauderdale, in Miami, will the first of two stops in the United States, the second being a three-day dash further up the coast and through Chesapeake Bay to Baltimore. From there, the managers want to finish the transatlantic leg on the west coast of France, perhaps rounding Ambrose Light off New York, with La Rochelle being mentioned, though no formal talks have taken place.

That would leave another quick dash back to Southampton which, the organisers hope, would mean the whole fleet arriving close together and in much more choreographed fashion.

No major co-sponsors are being announced, but five individual leg sponsors have been found. However, a big hitter wanting to back the whole race could still appear.

Following the resignation of the Royal Naval Sailing Association, the founder club which partnered Whitbread, the Royal Ocean Racing Club will now take over that role and provide six people to work on the committee.

A trail-blazing stockmarket flotation to fund New Zealand yachtsman Chris Dickson's America's Cup challenge has foundered. Pacific Challenge, the commercial arm of Dickson's Win New Zealand syndicate, said yesterday the public share issue had raised less than half of the NZdollars 16m ( pounds 6.3m) it was seeking. Dickson, though, will still take part in next year's America Cup regatta in San Diego, the company said.