Tension stretches sails in Cup challenger finals

AmericaOne, Prada run into paranoia head wind

Sailing

January 24, 2000|By Bruce Stannard | Bruce Stannard,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

AUCKLAND, New Zealand -- Paranoia plays an important part in every America's Cup, and the current go-round here is no exception.

On the eve of the best-of-nine challenger finals, there is so much tension between San Francisco's AmericaOne and Italy's Prada Challenge that the air fairly crackles across the wire-topped security screens separating their adjoining waterfront compounds.

AmericaOne skipper Paul Cayard is particularly incensed at the way in which the Italians have sought to impugn his jealously guarded reputation for sportsmanship. When AmericaOne lost the second-to-last race of the challenger semifinals to Dennis Conner's Stars & Stripes, the Italians hurled taunts and insults at Cayard and his crew.

Cayard had said earlier he would go all out to beat Conner's boat, but the Italians went on to suggest that he had deliberately lost in an attempt to disadvantage them by clearing the way for a possible sudden-death sail-off with Stars & Stripes. (The sail-off never occurred because Stars & Stripes lost its final race.)

To add insult to injury, the Italians pranced about their dock with red nose-cone masks, like Pinocchio, the fairy tale puppet whose proboscis grew and grew because of all the lies he told.

The incident might have been dismissed as so much undergraduate high jinks had it not struck at the very heart of Cayard's self-esteem as a professional sportsman.

"I know those guys," Cayard said coldly, "and they know me. What they did hurt, and I'm not about to forget it. They will come to regret it. There's the old saying, `Don't get mad, get even.' Well, we're going to get even. We spend a lot of time thinking about where we're going to jam those cones."

In the team-building rah-rah sessions leading up to the finals, Cayard has adroitly used the Pinocchio taunt the way a matador uses his bright red cape to engage the attention of the bull. The sense of outrage among his crew is almost palpable.

"Our strategy will be to go at them hard, win the starts and stay on top," Cayard said. "We know they don't like to mix it up. But we love to mix it up. We love the close-in fighting. That's where our greater experience will tell."

The Italians, perhaps sensing that they have overstepped in taunting Cayard so publicly, are saying little before the start of this series. They will be under extreme pressure to win.

Patrizio Bertelli, the Italian businessman who is backing Prada with $80 million from his own fortune, has shown himself to be highly emotional, especially on the rare occasions when Prada loses. His outbursts and the pressure they exert on the Italian crew are seen by Cayard as AmericaOne's "secret weapon."

"That guy," Cayard said, "may turn out to be our greatest single asset."

The last time AmericaOne and Prada clashed on Hauraki Gulf there was a great deal of yelling and screaming and protesting as the boats raced neck-and-neck.

"Yeah," Cayard said, "we got a little carried away. So did they."

With cameras and microphones aboard both boats for the finals, it will be interesting to see if the crews are more circumspect with a global TV audience following their every move.

As required by the rules of this regatta, AmericaOne and Prada dropped the security skirts surrounding their hulls on Friday. Both boats are remarkably similar below the water line with only minor variations in the size and shape of their keels, bulbs and fins. Both have relatively short, fat bulbs with sectional shapes resembling flattened ellipses.

The American bulb is constant in section, while the Italian bulb achieves maximum cross-section aft of the fin. Both keels have drooping winglets attached to the tails of their bulbs with the most obvious difference being in the aft sweep of the Italian boat's wings.

From this point on in the regatta, both challengers must maintain the shapes of their hulls and appendages. Team New Zealand, which also revealed the hulls of its two boats on Friday, has until just before the start of the America's Cup finals next month to settle on its boat and hull shape.

The Italians have chosen the older of their two boats (ITA-45) -- the boat they sailed throughout the first two round robins. Cayard has chosen the newer of his two boats (USA-61), which was first sailed in the semifinals.

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