SAN DIEGO -- The Louis Vuitton Cup challenger series opened yesterday, with Japan's Nippon Challenge matched against oneAustralia in the marquee race of the day.
Before the race was started in light northerly winds, the pundits were saying that John Bertrand and oneAustralia would make short work of Nippon and its supposedly weak after guard.
And indeed, oneAustralia won the start by five seconds. But Nippon won the race by 1 minute, 6 seconds.
Shortly after the start, with oneAustralia sailing on port tack to the right side of the course and Nippon sailing to the left, the wind shifted, Nippon tacked back and began to build a lead.
Bertrand, making his first appearance in the America's Cup trials since winning the cup from Dennis Conner in 1983, and oneAustralia were thought to be the hottest boat in the challenger field because of an easy win in the International America's Cup Class world championships here last fall.
But in light air yesterday, Nippon helmsman John Cutler and tactician Peter Evans played the wind shifts well and held off a pair of charges by oneAustralia.
"The course set made it easy to push oneAustralia out to the edge of the course," said Cutler, "and the way the wind was moving left later made it easy for us to sail away upwind."
Bertrand, however, said that an error by the race committee gave Nippon an unfair advantage.
As both teams were entering the top of the first downwind leg, the race committee was still repositioning the downwind mark to compensate for an earlier wind shift.
According to the race committee, the downwind mark was set off line and three quarters of a mile short of where it should have been.
"The course was skewed by that," Bertrand said. "And that made it awfully tough to come from behind. But that's sailboat racing . . . and Nippon is to be congratulated."
However, oneAustralia has protested the race based on the mark setting and it is possible the race will be thrown out and resailed at the end of the series.
Protest aside, Nippon is much faster than it was during the world championships, when it finished well down in the standings.
Cutler said yesterday that Nippon has been changed 30 percent overall since the worlds.
Nippon Skipper Makota Namba said that his team revised both its boat and its mental approach to these races.
"We were disappointed after the worlds, we thought we were better prepared," said Namba. "We met with the team here and in Tokyo and and refocused ourselves and made some changes to the boat to make it faster."
Nippon also said yesterday that sailing coach Peter Gilmour, a top notch match racer, has asked that an international jury overturn a decision Friday that banned him from being Nippon's skipper in this regatta. Representatives of America's Cup '95 and the Challenger of Record Committee, decided Friday that Gilmour is not a bona fide resident of Japan and therefore does not meet eligibility requirements.
Yesterday, Gilmour was aboard Nippon as the 17th man.
In another of the three challenger races, Team New Zealand and skipper Russell Coutts made short work of Pedros Campos and Spain, winning the start by 25 seconds and winning the race by 10:57.
Spain, whose new IACC boat has been touted as a light-air
rocket, was never in the race.
In the second race yesterday, France sailed out to an early lead against Sydney '95 (Australia) and held it until the last 200 yards of the final leg, when the French team's spinnaker ripped.
During the subsequent sail change on the French boat, the Australians caught up, took the lead and won the race by 20 seconds.
AMERICA'S CUP SUMMARY
Yesterday's conditions at the start were winds N at 6 knots and ranged up to 11 knots. Swells were 4 feet.
0 Team Dennis Conner (1-1) def. America3 (1-1)
Start: .... TDC .. +00:00:03 .. 1st leg .. TDC .. +00:00:22
2nd leg: .. TDC .. +00:00:38 .. 3rd leg .. TDC .. +00:00:56
4th leg: .. TDC .. +00:01:21 .. 5th leg .. TDC .. +8:43
6th leg: .. TDC .. +00:05:47 ... Time .... TDC .. 3:14:00
Today's race: PACT '95 vs. America3.
( Bye: Team Dennis Conner.
Yesterday's races: Race 1 -- Team New Zealand (1-0) def. Spain (0-1), 10:57. Race 2 -- Sydney '95 (1-0) def. France (0-1), :20. Race 3 -- Nippon Challenge (1-0) def. oneAustralia (0-1), 1:06.
Bye: Win New Zealand.
Today's races: Race 1 -- Nippon vs. Win New Zealand. Race 2 -- Team New Zealand vs. France. Race 3 -- Sydney 95 vs. Spain.
` Bye: oneAustralia.