AUCKLAND, New Zealand -- Gales and rain gave way to brilliant sunshine and a cool, 10-knot southerly breeze on the America's Cup course today as AmericaOne and Italy's Prada prepared for the first match in the best-of-nine showdown that will eventually determine which of them will be the 33rd Cup challenger.
The boisterous conditions that forced a 24-hour postponement yesterday left a confused and lumpy sea on the Hauraki Gulf course, but that did not deter hundreds of spectator boats streaming out of Auckland harbor.
Among them were some of the biggest and most expensive super-yachts in the world. Although there is a strange lack of interest in the challenger finals among New Zealanders, yachtsmen have come here from all over the world.
Paul Cayard's AmericaOne, representing San Francisco's St. Francis Yacht Club, was first away from the dock this morning. The crew appeared calm, almost subdued, as it lowered the boat into the water with an enormous American flag flying overhead.
Cayard, wearing his trademark black wraparound sunglasses and baseball cap, waved and grinned at the huge waterfront crowds and looked a picture of confidence as the boat was towed out to the course.
The Italians, who were not far behind, looked elegant and super-cool as they always do.
In the prerace maneuvers at the starting line, Prada lightly hit AmericaOne and was assessed a 360-degree penalty turn. The Italians, who had gotten off to a 28-second lead in the first leg, were to make the penalty turn at some point before the end of the race. Usually, a boat assessed such a penalty will wait until it has a comfortable lead -- or an insurmountable deficit -- before it performs the maneuver.
Meanwhile, each member of the Prada crew went armed with his own good-luck token.
Hidden away in a tote bag carried by skipper Francesco de Angelis is said to be a pair of battered old Topsiders, his lucky shoes. He doesn't wear them. The magic in the moccasins is apparently so powerful that he simply needs to have them close by.
Other crewmen don't talk about their charms. As every Italian sailor knows, lucky charms lose their magic power if they are uncovered.
But the Italians do have one very obvious charm, their 17th man -- a 73-year-old Tuscan, Renzo Guidi. Each boat is permitted to have a 17th crew member aboard as a guest.
The name Guidi has become synonymous with luck in the Prada camp. Ever since Prada chief Patrizio Bertelli installed him on board as his official observer, the Italians have won all but one race.