SAN DIEGO -- Thirty minutes past three today, the starting gun for Race 5 of the America's Cup will sound, America3 will fine trim its grayish sails and begin a march into the wind.
Less than three hours later, after eight legs and 20.03 nautical miles, it may come to pass that America3 crosses the finish line first and wins this international regatta.
Il Moro di Venezia, the Italian challenger, trails the U.S. defender, 3-1, in the best-of-seven series. In the history of the cup, only Australia II has come back from such a deficit.
"And they [the Italians] have more of a problem than we had," said John Bertrand, who skippered Australia II to victory in 1983. "We had a definite edge in certain conditions, but there doesn't seem to be an Achilles' heel to America3."
Bill Koch, who heads the America3 syndicate, is quick to dodge all questions about what might happen today.
But there seems to be little doubt that America3 will win one of the three possible remaining races.
Makoto Namba, who sailed for Japan against Italy in the challenger elimination series, said he feels the cup competition will end today.
"Just before the cup [finals] started, I thought the Italians were going to win," Namaba said yesterday. "But I am sure the Italians changed their appendages [keel, rudder] just before the cup, and that was a big mistake."
In the course of four days and two lopsided victories, America3 has redefined itself and now seems a certain winner. The reason is boat speed -- in virtually all conditions.
According to Dr. Jerry Milgram, a member of the America3 design team, the difference in speed is one percent, which he concedes is a fine line.
Changes to America3 after winning the defender finals against Dennis Conner and Stars & Stripes, have resulted in lower wetted surface and less drag on the U.S. boat.
Il Moro apparently has added to its keel -- supposedly winglets -- and the extra drag seems to have slowed it.
"We were very confident they were not going to be competitive," Milgram said.
Koch continues to say that it is not over until it is over.
"The Italians are sailing very well . . . ." Koch said. "I do think that our boat, under certain conditions, is better than theirs, and that forces them to sail defensively, and we have to sail offensively.
"I think that gives us a little advantage."
Along the way to the finish line, the U.S. defender will have set various combinations of grayish-black mainsail, genoas, gennakers and spinnakers built in the Annapolis sail loft of Larry Leonard, Sobstad Sails Chesapeake.
Second to boat design, Leonard's sails are the next important factor in building America3's edge in speed over the Italian challenger, Il Moro.
Yesterday, in fact, Koch was counting heavily on new sails arriving in the afternoon or evening so they could be ready for today's race.
Cup at a glance
.. .. .. Standings America3 .. .. .. .. .. 3
Moro di Venezia .. ..1
.. .. .. Schedule
Today: Il Moro di Venezia vs. America3, 3:30 p.m.
Tomorrow: Il Moro di Venezia vs. America3, 3:30 p.m., if necessary.
Tuesday: Il Moro di Venezia vs. America3, 3:30 p.m., if necessary.