Smith `transfer' costs $1m

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Sailing's first transfer deal worth in excess of $1m ($620,000) yesterday saw Lawrie Smith confirmed as skipper of a multi-million pound British challenge for the Whitbread Race next year.

The Swedish syndicate which released him, EF, immediately upped the stakes in the 32,000-mile round the world race by appointing Paul Cayard, the San Francisco America's Cup skipper, in his place.

Smith will stay with EF until mid-April, working mainly on sail design at the winter training camp in Portugal while his Silk Cut-sponsored boat, designed by Bruce Farr, is being built at the McConaghy yard in Sydney alongside one being constructed for the all-woman crew of the Australian model Elle Macpherson.

EF lose not only Smith but a whole raft of crew members recruited by him. Neal McDonald, Gordon Maguire, Adrian Stead, Steve Hayles, Jason Carrington and sail co-ordinator Russell Pickthall all move over.

Cayard is expected to bring with him five top Americans with John Kostecki, Rod Davis, and long-time associate Stevie Erikson high on the list of probables. EF is building two new boats in Gothenberg, the second for its all-woman crew.

No sooner had Smith switched to British colours than he was admitting that Cayard's appointment - both were announced at St Katherine's Dock, London - immediately propelled his old syndicate, rather than Chris Dickson and Dennis Conner, into his biggest threat.

Smith, for some time Britain's highest paid yachtsman, and his agents, World Sports Management, have taken three months to hammer out an agreement unique in yachting Both sides say it is amicable. He buys himself out of his EF contract and pays for participation in their design and development programme. On the other side he will have presented a financial package to Gallaher, owners of Silk Cut, to cover all his costs.

Not everyone is favourably impressed with Smith's defection. Magnus Olsson, the EF operations manager, said he had been "pretty upset." The 64ft Silk Cut yacht will be flown to England in May, with the syndicate hoping to share some of the pounds 250,000 cost. The keel will be made in the United Kingdom.

Cayard reinforces the stature of the race. He is a perfect fit for EF's language-learning marketing in the United States and 31 other countries - he also speaks French and Italian - and even has a Swedish wife. He was skipper of Italy's Il Moro di Venezia challenge for the America's Cup in 1992, helmsman and strategist for Dennis Conner's defence in 1995, and has participated in two earlier America's Cups.