Sailing: Sudden impact for Cudmore: Hugh Bateson on the perils which can rock even the experienced

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The Independent Online
THE IRISH were determined to make an impact on the Isle of Wight during the 1993 Champagne Mumm Admiral's Cup, and it took them just over an hour to do it as Harold Cudmore drove his boat straight into it.

Cudmore, who lives here in Cowes and has raced in every Admiral's Cup since 1975, ripped a hole in the hull of his boat, Jameson I, on Gurnard Ledge, a notorious outcrop shaped like a horseshoe 400 yards off shore just along the coast from Cowes. The back of the keel punched up through the hull, before falling off, and the boat immediately started sinking. Cudmore steered for the shore, and she came to rest, the waves rolling over her decks, 25 yards from a small beach where a little crowd gathered in the rain to witness the plight of the man dubbed 'King Harold of Cowes'.

Another King Harald, of Norway, who actually owns the boat, which is on charter to the Irish, is unlikely to be amused.

Cudmore is one of the few sailors whose fame has spread beyond the sport, chiefly through his high-profile campaign as skipper of Britain's America's Cup challenge in Fremantle in 1986-87. He has won nearly all the sport's major prizes, and was adviser to Bill Koch's successful America3 team in the last America's Cup.

He is actively involved in Britain's fledgling challenge for the 1995 cup, and Koch said recently he was one of only three people in the world who truly understood the event.

So a fall from such a height might have been expected to deflate man and team, especially on the day the Irish were to celebrate the arrival of their challenge as a serious force.

Not Harold Cudmore, who positively bounced in to face the media. 'Perhaps I had better be King Neptune, now,' he said. And the party? 'There are two ways you can approach a sinking. (He did it once before, in a race in 1985.) You can either get upset about it, or say 'What the hell'. There's nothing we can do about it so we might as well go on and enjoy the evening.'

He was also quite happy to explain how one of the world's leading sailors, backed up by a team of experts and a battery of computers, managed to end up standing on top of his boat up to his knees in water waiting for the rescue boats.

'We were deciding whether to go inside or outside the ledge. It was a late decision and we were slightly out, obviously,' he said.

Others came tantalisingly close to following him, as of the seven one-ton boats in the Admiral's Cup - the smallest of the three classes - six came back damaged in various ways by brushing the ledge. The boat was eventually brought back to Cowes, where the damage was assessed and the boat's future, if any, was discussed.

There remained one task - informing His Majesty. Who would take on the duty? 'That's a good question. I certainly haven't,' Cudmore said.