US scent victory in Admiral's Cup

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On an action-packed day of three short races in Christchurch Bay, the 20th Champagne Mumm Admiral's Cup yesterday moved decisively in the direction of the United States.

There is only one more inshore race in the Solent tomorrow, and the three boats in the US team know they have only to do averagely well and then turn in a half-way decent performance in the 605-mile Fastnet Race finale which starts on Saturday to take the trophy home for the first time in 26 years.

The first shock of the day for some of the competitors was that the first of two Champagne Mumm Trophy races started on time at 11am. The Italian 36-footer Mumm a Mia! was making her way at a leisurely pace down to the start when she realised that the guns were firing and signal flags already flying.

She crossed the line five minutes after the start, but kept plugging away, and on the fifth and final leg of a course shortened to seven and a half miles pulled up from last to fourth.

Much luckier was the start of the Italian 40-footer Brava Q8, which was also scurrying back under spinnaker, dropped it as she rounded the committee boat, found plenty of space at that end of the line and, without the tiniest break in her progress, crossed right on the gun, picked up a favourable wind shift, went over the top of the fleet, and won her class.

It was another bad day for the British team, which could now be described as dead but not buried, as later results showed. The big boat scored an eighth, the middle boat seventh, and the smallest a sixth. There was some fight left in them, and Robin Aisher in the 45ft Group 4 Seahorse improved to fifth in the second race, shortened to six miles. Harry Cudmore took the 40ft Group 4 Astro up one to sixth, and the Mumm 36 Group 4 raised more than a few cheers by notching up a second.

The director of the Royal Ocean Racing Club, Alan Green, was determined to catch up on the race lost on Monday in the pair of races for the Corum Trophy, and give the competitors their scheduled day off today. He just about got away with the rescheduled race in the afternoon, as the breeze had swung from easterly to south-westerly and back to southerly.

The South African big boat, Sansui Challenge, broke away to score its first win in that division, while Aisher capitalised on a good start to take second.

Brava Q8 was picking up her second win of the day as her American rival, David Clarke's Pigs in Space, came back from last to third. "You've just got to keep your eyes open. There was a 70-degree shift in the wind direction just after the start, as big as anything we have seen so far, and that put us deep in the hole," Clarke said afterwards.

Their recovery, and Jim Brady steering the American Mumm 36 No Problem to another win, meant that the US team extended its lead over the chasing Italians to 20 points, while Britain stays firmly lodged at the bottom of the eight teams.

Back in the Solent, racing in Skandia Life Cowes Week was delayed for three hours, then showed a little promise with a fresh breeze, only for it to die out and leave most competitors stranded and unable to finish by the 6pm deadline.

Geoff Howison, of Scotland, won the major prize, the Bathsheba Trophy, in his new Bashford 41, Local Hero, from Colm Barrington, of Ireland, in the sister-ship Surfing Shoes. George Coumantaris, of America, in his 76ft Boomerang, beat Mike Slade's Longabarda in the maxi class.