SAN DIEGO -- Bill Koch spent some $65 million to get into the 1992 America's Cup, and one of the perks he has enjoyed is taking the helm of the U.S. defender for a while each race day.
Yesterday, in Race 1 of the 28th America's Cup, Koch took the helm of America3 for a while and managed to make a race out of a budding runaway.
America3 beat Paul Cayard and Il Moro, the Italian challenger, only because Cayard crossed the line early at the start and lost 30 seconds while restarting -- the exact margin at the end of the race.
"I guess it was all over at the start, eh?" said Buddy Melges, the Olympic medalist and world-class sailor who steered most of the race for America3.
But it was not so easily explained. The margin of victory was only 30 seconds because Koch lost a sizable lead in relief of Melges.
"I made a big mistake by getting on the wheel on that last windward leg," said Koch, who was hit on the head by a piece of gear and said he had trouble concentrating.
"But Buddy got back on the wheel, and we pulled it out."
America3's time over the 20.03-nautical-mile course was 2:21:15. The best-of-seven series continues today.
With Koch at the wheel for three reaching legs and the last windward leg, America3's lead went from 50 seconds to 35.
Koch has been sailing competitively for eight years, and this is his first America's Cup.
On the downwind leg to the finish, with Melges at the wheel, Cayard and Il Moro picked up another five seconds.
America3's largest lead was 52 seconds at the second windward mark.
During the prestart maneuvering, Cayard attacked aggressively and forced America3 to sail into the spectator fleet at the port end of the starting line.
Il Moro followed and chased America3 out of the spectators toward the starboard end of the starting line.
Both boats, however, were forced to sail away from the line with more than a minute to go before the start.
Cayard turned for the line and was over early by three seconds, while America3 started cleanly and built a lead of 30 seconds as Il Moro restarted.
"I made a fundamental mistake," Cayard said. "I wasn't personally looking at the pin end buoy; I was relying on all the other information around. . . . It looked like I was about a half boat-length over."
In recent races in the challenger finals, Cayard had begun to use electronic equipment in addition to the traditional bowman to call his starts.
"We had all that stuff again, but basically, whether it was the human or the machines, we were off by just a little," Cayard said. "We didn't appropriately account for the amount of current. We thought it was a half a knot, and it was about a knot."
When the current ran Il Moro past the starting line, it swept America3 right into the position it wanted for Race 1.
"We wanted the right end of the line because we wanted the right side of the course today," America3 tactician and starting helmsman Dave Dellenbaugh said.
Cayard said that he wanted the left side of the course, but in hindsight acknowledged that the right hand side of the course probably was favored.
On the first leg to windward, the breeze built to about 14 knots and America 3, which had been altered and stiffened after the defender finals, seemed to handle the increase better than Il Moro.
At the first mark rounding, at the top of the windward leg, America3 had added one second to its lead.
On the first downwind leg, however, America3 added 10 more seconds and a sloppy spinnaker takedown by Il Moro allowed the U.S. boat to build its lead after rounding the mark.
By the next mark, the end of the second windward leg and the start of three reaching legs, the breeze had dropped to 10 knots and America3 had added 11 seconds to its lead.
Barring a glaring error, it seemed that a 52-second lead would be enough to hold up against Il Moro.
But on the first reaching leg, with Koch at the wheel, Il Moro cut 11 seconds off America3's lead.
On the reaching legs, Il Moro flew a fractional gennaker and set a staysail inside it on the second reaching leg.
By the end of the leg, Il Moro again was behind by 50 seconds.
Some foredeck confusion at the mark, while the Italian crew was taking down the gennaker and the staysail, gave America3 an even greater jump on the way to the leeward mark.
Nonetheless, Il Moro, sailing higher than America3 with Koch at the helm, gained eight seconds on the last reaching leg, but still trailed by 42 seconds.
On the last windward leg, Il Moro gained seven seconds and trailed America3, with Koch at the helm, by 35 seconds.
On the leg to the finish line, Il Moro tried to force an error by America3 by gybing, passing its stern through the wind, several times. America3 covered each time.
"I thought the boats were pretty even all the way around," Cayard said. "I was over by 30 seconds, and I lost by 30 seconds.
"And it would be hard to have a worse day than we had today in all aspects."
Melges said that the changes made to America3 between rounds had a great effect on the boat's performance and that he expects the improvement to continue as the boat is fine tuned.
"It is only the first day, and I don't want to make predictions," Melges said. "But as long as we continue to win by 30 seconds, I will be happy."