Sailing: Sympathy for Pajot as Spain come to the rescue

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THE SWISS were hanging on by the thinnest of threads to their place in the Louis Vuitton Cup here last night after their mast came crashing down on the third leg of their race against Spain, who immediately offered to come to their rescue.

Marc Pajot, skipper of the financially troubled group, said he had been offered a replacement mast by the Spanish, but would need the agreement of all the remaining nine challengers for the America's Cup.

That would circumvent, for the time being, the official channel of an arbitration panel, which oversees the implementation of the complex rules of the America's Cup. No one was willing to be anything other than sympathetic to the group who are facing elimination from the trials at the end of this month.

But any emotion would not conceal the fact that it would create a difficult precedent and, were the Swiss or any other syndicate to use a rivals' equipment, the defending New Zealanders would doubtless say that made them ineligible under rules to take part in a challenge match.

In strife of another kind was the New York Yacht Club, which originally wrote those rules. For the second day in succession, their skipper, Ed Baird, found himself unable to defeat a strong opponent, this time Japan's Nippon Challenge.

The performance of their new boat had the skipper, Peter Gilmour, beaming at the end of an afternoon in which his upwind performance in the blustery 18 to 22-knot south-westerly on the Hauraki Gulf had fulfilled all his hopes in this third-round robin.

He pressured Baird into a penalty on the first leg and then won another at the end of the fourth as Baird used some downwind speed advantage to attack and try and even the situation. Instead, he found himself in a rare tangle and Gilmour sailed away to a comfortable win.

With 64 points, Italy's Prada are within a couple of races of securing a semi-final place. Yesterday's win over the surprisingly tenacious French was achieved despite Prada having to make emergency repairs to a broken main sail boom vang and execute a smart penalty turn just before the finish.