The semifinal rounds in the America's Cup trials begin this week with a list of expected qualifiers and the need for last-minute improvement by one defender and at least two challengers.
Among the defenders, the America3 all-women's team has lagged behind Pact '95 and Team Dennis Conner since the trials began in January.
The women's first boat, the one that won the America's Cup in 1992, did not match up well with Young America and Stars and Stripes, the second-generation yachts raced by Pact '95 and Team Dennis Conner.
The women's second International America's Cup Class racer, Mighty Mary, had its moments in the last round robin, but it, too, appears to need improvement before America3 opens the semifinals against Young America on Saturday.
In the semifinals, said Sandra Bateman of America3, the women must win five of eight races to qualify for the Citizen Cup final starting April 10.
Under regatta rules, any of the defenders or challengers may make significant changes to their boats' underbodies (35 percent), topsides (80 percent) and decks (100 percent) between rounds.
The women's team has said that it will put on a new keel and overhaul other parts of Mighty Mary -- and the newest of the IACC boats eligible for this regatta could be surprisingly different by the time the semifinals open.
Probably it will have to be, because Young America enters the semifinals with two bonus points, Stars and Stripes enters with one and Mighty Mary enters with none, based on their placings, first to third, through the four round robins completed last week.
Victories in the semifinals are worth one point, and each &L defender will race the other two teams four times. With the bonus points, Young America has the potential to score a perfect 10, Stars and Stripes could score nine, and Mighty Mary could score as many as eight.
"Mathematically, the women are still in the hunt," said one race official, "but based on their performance so far it is unlikely they can win as many as they need -- more than four -- to make the final."
But as one Stars and Stripes staff member said: "It is not impossible; they are only one point behind us. But you have to remember that while all the cards have been dealt, not all the cards have been played yet."
The implication was that while Mighty Mary will have its keel changed and probably have a better suit of sails for the semifinals, so will the other syndicates.
"This is a long-term regatta, and between each round there are refinements in keels and appendages, sails and so on," the Stars and Stripes staffer said. "I know, for example, that we haven't had our best sails on the boat yet -- and probably the other teams haven't, either."
Young America needs to win three races to qualify for the final, and Stars and Stripes must win four.
Among the challengers, Team New Zealand, which hasn't lost a race on the water since January (it lost one race through protest to oneAustralia), seems to be in the strongest position entering the semifinals.
Tag Heur, the other New Zealand challenger, may have found itself in the second-best position, after the sinking of oneAustralia's No. 1 boat last Sunday. But even though Team New Zealand has beaten Tag Heur four times in the round robins, NZL 39 can be expected to be tougher for this round because designer Bruce Farr has a knack for getting the most out of his creations at the most opportune times.
oneAustralia, which finished the round robins in second place and beat Tag Heur last week with its No. 2 boat, certainly will be a factor. oneAustralia plans to install a new keel and bring the old boat up to speed this week. The question is whether the Australians can get up to a speed that will beat either Team New Zealand or Tag Heur.
The fourth challenger is Nippon, which has probably the largest budget among challengers or defenders but was hard pressed to make this round ahead of France3. Nippon has not beaten any of the other three semifinalists on the water since January.
=1 The challenger pairings will be drawn Friday.
The pairings for the semifinal round of the Citizen Cup defender elimination series of the America's Cup trials:
* Saturday: America3, Mighty Mary, vs. Pact '95, Young America
* Next Sunday: Team Dennis Conner, Stars and Stripes, vs. Young America
* March 20: Stars and Stripes vs. Mighty Mary
* March 21: Mighty Mary vs. Young America
* March 22: lay day
* March 23: Stars and Stripes vs. Young America
* March 24: Stars and Stripes vs. Mighty Mary
* March 25: Mighty Mary vs. Young America
* March 26: Stars and Stripes vs. Young America
* March 27: lay day
* March 28: Stars and Stripes vs. Mighty Mary
* March 29: Mighty Mary vs. Young America
* March 30: Stars and Stripes vs. Young America
* March 31: Stars and Stripes vs. Mighty Mary
Note: Pairings for the challenger semifinals will be drawn Friday. Both series open Saturday.