Sailing: Talks fail to secure British bid

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The Independent Online
BRITAIN WAS yesterday tantalisingly close to securing its place in the America's Cup after a gap of 13 years. But two days of intense negotiations between the Spirit of Britain syndicate and major new backers still failed to conclude months of speculation and an increasingly frantic search for funding.

And it leaves the group, which represents a challenge officially lodged by the Royal Dorset Yacht Club, little time to build the first of what is hoped to be two boats in time to begin racing against up to 10 other challengers in Auckland in October. It is the winner of this Louis Vuitton Cup series that goes forward as sole challenger to the defending New Zealanders in February 2000.

But much of the design work by Ian Howlett has already been completed in a sophisticated computer programme supported by Silicon Graphics, and work on the mast and rigging has been pushing ahead under the direction of British Aerospace. A team of boatbuilders is standing by and there have been two offers of facilities in which to build the boat, the most likely being in Weymouth.

Details had still to be announced last night, but it is believed that, in a deal brokered by the Royal Yachting Association and Sir Tim Bell, agreement was reached on both shareholdings and management in a restructured syndicate. This would pave the way for multi-million pound funding and allow the syndicate to apply for further funding from central sources such as the Lottery.

However, a three-page document of refined proposals was still shuttling between lawyers on both sides. The meetings now involve principals, although the prospective skipper, Lawrie Smith, is in Melbourne for the Soling world championships, so no resolution is expected until early next week.

Mike Golding is delaying his decision on whether to continue in the Around Alone Race until damage to the hull and swinging keel hydraulics is assessed. Golding's 60ft Team Group 4 ran aground 140 miles from the finish of the second leg from Cape Town to Auckland. His enforced retirement as the boat was towed to the repair yard means he cannot win the race.

Olympic silver medallist Ben Ainslie revelled in the breezy conditions of Melbourne's Port Phillip Bay yesterday, winning the third race of the Laser world championship as most of the other classes were ordered to stay ashore. In the second flight, Queensland's Brendan Casey won, with the Brazilian gold medallist of 1996, Robert Scheidt, pushing up to third.