Sailing: Whitbread yachts in bow row


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The Independent Online

Lawrie Smith, the leading British skipper, was at the centre of an international row yesterday over the future of pounds 20m worth of new, state-of-the-art maxi yachts for this year's Whitbread Round the World race, writes Stuart Alexander.

All three, New Zealand Endeavour, Merit Cup and La Poste, were designed by Bruce Farr with protruding clipper bows, which help the handling of oversize spinnaker poles and asymmetrical gennakers.

'We have a lawyer looking at things,' Smith said at Hamble where he is masterminding the Spanish entry in the Whitbread, Fortuna. Smith feels he would be disadvantged if, after deciding not to modify his bow on the advice of the senior British measurer, Tony Ashmead, other yachts measured elsewhere are given the go-ahead.

Ashmead, some three months ago, asked the world's top measurer, the American Ken Weller, to give an interpretation. He is also concerned that it could affect yachts in other events like the Admiral's Cup.

In the meantime, Smith has decided against adding such a bow to a string of modifications being made to Fortuna. But coming to Farr's defence is the British designer, Stephen Jones, whose clever piece of design development in the mid-1970s gave rise to the 1980 writing of the rule about clipper bows.

'It looks as though Farr has given the rule some long, hard analysis and come up with a smart move,' Jones said yesterday. 'The English in the rule is rather ambiguous, since it covers both clipper and bulbous bows in one paragraph. When read carefully, in the case of the clipper bow, the treatment accorded to the Farr ketches, if correctly designed, should invite no penalty.'