The secret America's Cup

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The Independent Online
Britain headed a list of 11 challengers from nine countries for the 30th America's Cup, to be defended by New Zealand in February 2000, when the first deadline closed in Auckland yesterday, writes Stuart Alexander.

As mystery still surrounded the source of the pounds 68,000 entry fee paid by the Royal Dorset Yacht Club at Weymouth and the existence of the pounds 15m needed to fund a credible campaign, there was also secrecy about two of the other 11 syndicates.

The New York Yacht Club and San Francisco's St Francis Yacht may yet be joined by other Americans, and the St Thomas Yacht Club represents the tiny US Virgin Islands. The Japanese are back, as are the Spanish, Russia's St Petersburg, and the French, challenging this time through Jean-Marie Vidal's syndicate at Port Camargues. The newcomers are Hong Kong in the guise of the Aberdeen Boat Club.

That leaves two, which Sir Peter Blake, leader of the New Zealand defenders, said would remain confidential for about 10 days. As, however, he was also saying there were 11 entries from nine countries, that implies two further countries. In theory, one of those should be Australia, but the front-runners are Canada and - if difficulties over having to be based on an arm of the sea can be overcome - Switzerland.

The French luggage group Louis Vuitton, which has sponsored the challenger eliminations since 1983, has first rights again in Auckland. Negotiations are due to begin next summer.

Unbeaten in their first four races, Peter Gilmour, Russell Coutts, Chris Law and Markus Wieser ensured their safe passage into the quarter-finals of the Brut Royal Lymington Cup, but they will have to complete the three remaining races to establish a round-robin finishing order.

In the other group, the US Virgin Islands America's Cup debutant, Peter Holmberg, has almost secured his place in the quarter-final with four straight wins. The world No 1 Ed Baird, who has three, probably needs just one more today while three have two wins: the defending champion, Thierry Peponnet, his fellow Frenchman Bertrand Pace, and Denmark's Sten Mohr. Finding the going tough was the Congressional Cup winner, Gavin Brady of New Zealand, who has one win from four starts.

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