Challengers get drift of competition to come

Delays, postponements, collisions mar first round

October 29, 1999|By Peter Baker | Peter Baker,SUN STAFF

Earlier this week, while confusion reigned on Hauraki Gulf off Auckland, America's Cup defender Team New Zealand seemed to thumb its nose at the fleet of challengers by sailing onto the racecourse, hoisting spinnakers on its two boats and easily bearing away in 18 to 20 knots of wind.

Neither race officials nor representatives of the 11 teams competing in the challengers' Louis Vuitton Cup took great issue with New Zealand sailing across the course while races were in progress.

But John Marshall, head of the New York Yacht Club's Young America syndicate, said Team New Zealand's buzzing of the fleet is a warning of what lies ahead.

"Obviously, Team New Zealand will expect us to race in these conditions," said Marshall, who has been involved with defense and challenge teams since the 1970s.

Yesterday -- 11 days after they started -- the challengers completed round robin 1, the first step toward choosing which team will race against New Zealand in February for the America's Cup.

The Prada Challenge from Italy won all 10 of its races, including defeats of the top two U.S. challengers so far, Young America (New York) and AmericaOne (San Francisco).

The much anticipated match between Young America and AmericaOne yesterday afternoon was anticlimactic, as the San Francisco boat withdrew because of problems with a batten in its mainsail. Both teams finished with 8-2 records and tied for second place.

The three other U.S. challengers, America True (San Francisco), Team Dennis Conner (San Diego) and Abracadabra 2000 (Hawaii) finished fourth, seventh and eighth. Only America True (6-4) won more than half its races.

Numerous delays in starts, several collisions and ensuing postponements, and unsettling performances when winds were up marred the first round.

But the problems of AmericaOne, Paul Cayard's $32 million entry from the St. Francis Yacht Club, figured most heavily.

On Saturday, Team Dennis Conner's Stars and Stripes collided with AmericaOne while maneuvering for position in the prestart period. The International Jury determined Stars and Stripes did not avoid a collision when reasonably possible and penalized Team Dennis Conner half a point.

Although AmericaOne completed the race and beat Stars and Stripes, Cayard's team was granted time for repairs, and its final two races were postponed until yesterday.

The delay may end up as an inadvertent penalty to other teams.

Under Vuitton Cup rules, teams can prepare to make changes to their boats at any point in the regatta, but actual alterations to rigs, hulls, keels and appendages cannot begin until each round has been completed.

Several teams reason they have lost five days of preparation for the Nov. 6 start of Round 2.

"The whole goal is to select the fastest boat as a group to challenge Team New Zealand," said Dawn Riley, head of the San Francisco Yacht Club's America True, a one-boat syndicate. "This delay is just tying people's hands behinds their backs."

In the cases of Prada, Young America and AmericaOne, all well-funded, multi-boat teams, the delays probably will be less problematic because they have new boats they can enter in later rounds. AmericaOne's newest boat is still being built.

But for many of the other teams with less funding, a single International America's Cup Class racer or both, the breaks are crucial if they are to remain competitive.

"We just want to make our boat faster, and this isn't happening," Riley said.

During the first round, competitors often took advantage of a rule that allows a 45-minute delay if a boat is judged to be disabled before the start of a race. However, that rule will not be in effect in the America's Cup match against New Zealand.

Race operations director Vince Cooke said the requests for delayed starts have become problematic. Delays have been granted for broken steering systems, unspecified mast problems, broken battens and other conditions.

"There were more requests for postponements [Wednesday], I think, than in the entire two regattas I participated in in 1992 and 1995," he said.

On Thursday, the race committee may have set the tone for the two upcoming round robins, when victories will be worth 4 and 9 points rather than 1.

When Cayard asked for a delay against Young America to repair the batten, race judges refused.

"It has come time to show up at the starting line ready to sail," Cayard said afterward.

Standings

The Louis Vuitton Cup standings after round robin 1:

Team ......................................................W ..............L ........Pts.

1. Prada Challenge, Italy ......................10 ...............0 ..........10

2. AmericaOne, San Francisco ..............8 ...............2 ............8

3. Young America, New York .................8 ...............2 ............8

4. America True, San Francisco ............6 ...............4 .............6

5. Nippon Challenge, Japan ..................6 ...............4 ..........5.5*

6. Spanish Challenge ............................5 ...............5 .............5

7. T eam Dennis Conner, San Diego .....5 ...............5 .........4.5*

8. Abracadabra, Hawaii .........................4 ...............6 .............4

9. Le Defi Bouygues, France .................2 ...............8 .............2

10. Young Australia ...............................1 ...............9 .............1

11. Fast 2000, Switzerland ....................0 .............10 .............0

* -- Both teams penalized half point for infractions.

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