Syndicate resurfaces: Sailing

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The Independent Online
The British America's Cup syndicate, silent since its launch through the Royal Dorset Yacht Club in May, is to send a team to an invitational regatta in Auckland at Easter. It is time, the syndicate boss Chris Witty said yesterday, to emerge from the shadows.

Chris Law has been invited to skipper a crew being assembled by Chris Mason, a key member of the Japanese challenge in San Diego in 1992 and 1995. The syndicate, which is still looking for major sponsors to back what could be a pounds 15m to pounds 20m campaign, had also hoped to blood some of Britain's emerging talent, such as the 1996 Olympic silver medallists John Merricks and Ian Walker. But they have commitments to the British Admiral's Cup team, which persuaded Witty to look elsewhere for crew.

It is expected that Lawrie Smith would take the helm for the Louis Vuitton Cup elimination trials, scheduled for October to December 1999, but he has his hands full with the Silk Cut Whitbread project.

The other three groups to accept invitations to the Auckland series to be held in New Zealand's two older America's Cup boats are the San Franciscan team lead by Leslie Egnot, the New York Yacht Club, skippered by the former Team NZ coach, Ed Baird, and France's Port Camargue group.

The winner of their round-robin in the first week of April will meet the world match racing champion and Team NZ skipper, Russell Coutts, in a final match.

The British team, which has paid the $100,000 (pounds 60,000) entry fee, is not expected to sign any big names before the February deadline to meet nationality rules. But Witty, who has been undergoing heart surgery, said: "We think we should do it. The timing is right and we need to demonstrate to potential backers that we are up and running."

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