SAN DIEGO -- America3, the U.S. defender in the 28th America's Cup, put together a second successive superb race and yesterday defeated Italy's Il Moro di Venezia to take a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series.
Only one boat in America's Cup history has come back from a 3-1 deficit -- Australia II, which won in 1983.
But in that series, the challenger was clearly faster than the defender. In this series there is no question that America3 is far faster than Il Moro in anything but a zephyr.
"We are cautiously optimistic [that America3 will win Race 5 on Saturday]," said Bill Koch, the Kansan who has spent $65 million on his cup campaign. "We have great confidence in our crew and our tactician, and our tactics and our boat handling.
"All we have to do is keep it together."
Sailing in westerly winds from nine to perhaps 14 knots, America3 completed the 20.03-nautical-mile course in 2 hours, 30 minutes and 47 seconds and won by 1:04.
But the race was not without some anxious moments.
For example, toward the top of the second leg to windward, it appeared that Il Moro had regained much of a 47-second deficit.
"We were 11 boat lengths ahead," Koch said, "and we went down to four boats because we had the wrong sail up." But Il Moro skipper Paul Cayard stood on perhaps a half dozen lengths beyond the lay line and did not capitalize fully on his gain.
It was the second missed opportunity for Il Moro, which was sucker-punched by America3 starting helmsman and tactician Dave Dellenbaugh in the prestart.
With the wind just south of west at 14 knots, Cayard and Il Moro worked hard to protect the left side of the course, and Dellenbaugh twice sailed into the spectator fleet in an attempt to lose them.
Cayard, however, hung tough until just before the start when, with both boats stalled and Il Moro blocking a tack by America3, Dellenbaugh gybed right, away from Il Moro, and came up to the left end of the starting line.
Il Moro, forced to start in the center of the line, crossed one second ahead of America3, but the U.S. boat had the position it wanted.
"Wasn't that slick," said helmsman Buddy Melges of Zenda, Wisc. "Paul [Cayard] wasn't really alert to what we were going to do."
Cayard said he really wanted the left side of the course.
"And I was kind of kicking myself for letting them get off the hook there," Cayard said. "But Dave did a better job there than I did, and I congratulate him."
On the first windward leg, with the wind dropping off to about 11 knots, America 3 seemed to be sailing lower and faster than Il Moro, and the first tack onto port showed America3 to have a little better position to windward of the Italians. A current running right to left across the course also was pushing the U.S. boat toward the mark.
America 3 also seemed to be doing better because it was sailing a larger main than Il Moro, which was using a new, smallish mainsail.
"After they were able to sail out from under us on the first beat," Cayard said, "there really weren't that many critical moments in the race.
"Yes, we were gaining on the second beat, but we ran out of race course before it got really critical."
At the first mark, after a brief tacking duel initiated by Il Moro, America3 led by 24 seconds.
Sailing downwind, Il Moro hoisted a spinnaker, and America3 set a gennaker. America3 had brief problems with its first gybe, but was near perfect afterward and by the end of the leg had gained 23 seconds more and led by 47.
The second windward leg was sailed on an axis of 275 degrees, a 10 degree shift to the right that Il Moro would have loved on the first leg to windward. At the mark, Il Moro had closed by 20 seconds and now trailed by only 27.
On the first reaching leg, Koch took the helm from Melges, and America 3 regained three seconds and led by 30.
After the second reaching leg, America3 led by 32 seconds and the wind again was up to 12 or 13 knots.
Melges returned to the helm for the rounding at the second leeward mark and sailed the final beat.
Today is a lay day for both crews.