Sailing: The pleasure of the big business

A magnificent maxi retires from the water after providing some real pleasure.
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TODAY, AT the end of a long and worthy campaign, Longobarda leaves the field of battle that is Skandia Life Cowes Week.

Mike Slade's 80ft maxi, which has been carrying the colours and sailing under the name of Bombay Sapphire, goes back to Hamble this weekend. There she will be put on a cradle until she is sold, along with Slade's other 80-footer, the David Alan-Williams-designed Ocean Leopard.

Slade, a Cornishman, has an almost boyish enthusiasm for sailing and for nearly everything else he talks about. He thoroughly enjoys having the biggest skateboard on the block, but has had to make sure that these wickedly expensive-to-run machines pay their way commercially.

While the day job is running Helical Bar, a property investment and development company, he enjoys running the yachts, although his high handicap rating has made it almost impossible for him to win any of the major trophies in the yacht's swan-song week.

The thrill afloat comes from sailing such a big and powerful machine with a largely professional crew. "It's just great to have Chris Law and his match race team, Julian Salter and James Stagg, alongside the Whitbread likes of Jason Carrington of Silk Cut, Paul Quinn of Merit Cup, Shag Morton, representing the experienced side of youth, Kelvin Rawlings, Russell Pickthall, and that impressive lady round the worlder, Emma Westmacott."

While he still keeps a three-man Etchells at Lymington, and a Wayfarer dinghy at his house in Rock, Cornwall, he is a big boat man through-and- through. "I could have a 40 or 50-footer, but if you can have a big boat at half the price, why not? And anyway, I am not good enough as a helmsman on the 40 or 50-foot circuit."

He likes, just as much, to be "chairman" of the boat and running the charter company. "It is quite an undertaking putting the whole circus together, but the orchestration of the team is very satisfying. And I could not justify a boat this size if I was just sailing it around." He remains impressed with the American maxi owner, Jim Kilroy. "This is one wealthy man and 22 paupers all having the same amount of fun, so it's a kind of redistribution of wealth."

Slade does some of that through Helical Bar, which sponsors the Portsmouth International Festival of the Sea and, through that, last night's gala dinner at the Royal Corinthian Yacht Club for Sailability, which helps disabled sailors.

But when his new Reichel and Pugh 90-footer, to be built at Lymington with a comfortable lightweight interior from Ken Freivokh, hits the water in the spring of 2000 it, too, will have to earn its keep. "We can provide a high-profile platform for a company like Bombay Sapphire, which has long-standing links with Cowes.

"And I also like the gin, it's damned good. The only problem is stopping the crew from enjoying it too much."