Sailing: Sproul and Zuccoli find form

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The Independent Online
THE FERRARIS of the waves began their first world championship yesterday, as 93 Melges 24s lined up in Torbay for the first time since being given official status by the International Sailing Federation.

The ISAF president, Paul Henderson, visited to give the class his official blessing. But he missed what was described by one competitor as "an almost perfect start to any regatta"when the fleet went out to find 16 to 18 knots of easterly and hazy sunshine.

A difficult swell made life tricky for the 14 nations represented, including a strong contingent from the United States, the original home of the boat. But it was the Europeans who held sway in the first two races of the scheduled 10 in the series. The former European champion, Giorgio Zuccoli, came third and then first, while the Scotsman Kevin Sproul matched him with a first and a third-place finish.

Challenging that pair was the American Gold Cup winner from 1996, Brian Porter, who was sixth in the first race, having led before having to recover from a broken bowsprit on the final run and then a jammed spinnaker halyard. His second place in the second race restored his confidence, however.

"It was a great day, with very, very good sailing," Zuccoli said. "The wind and waves were perfect, but, with all those other boats on the start line, there could have been quite a few problems. But we were able to get away more cleanly than expected."

Porter agreed with that analysis, adding: "We have great sailing in the States, but out there the standard is top notch. Given the problems we had, we are pretty pleased with our position."

Sproul added: "This is going to be extremely tough. You cannot afford to take any chances on the line, you cannot afford not to take chances on the line, but we are flying downwind, and that is due in no small part to our spinnaker trimmer, Duncan McDonald."

European sailors were leading in eight of the 10 classes a third of the way through a pre-Olympic regatta in Sydney Harbour - with British crews ahead in three classes. Andrew Beadsworth, Richard Sydenham and Adrian Stead led the Soling class, after three wins out of six. Ben Ainslie was ahead of Brazil's world champion, Robert Scheidt, in a reversal of their Atlanta Olympic form in the Lasers, while the brothers Andrew and Ian Budgen were ahead in the 49er skiffs, which make their Olympic debut in two years' time. "We didn't expect to do so well," Andy Budgen admitted after their third win out of six.

France's Faustine Merret was the women's Mistral sailboard leader after five races, ahead of Germany's Amelie Lux and her fellow Frenchwoman, Justine Gardahaut.

Fredrik Loof of Sweden led the Finns, Nicola Birkner and Wibke Bulle of Germany led the women's 470, Carolyn Brouwer of the Netherlands was the Europe class leader while the Austrians, Andreas Hagara and Wolfgang Moser, led the Tornado catamarans. The other class leaders were Argentina's Javier Conte and Juan de la Fuente in the men's 470 and New Zealand's Aaron McIntosh in the men's Mistral.