AmericaOne rebounds, wins second race

Cayard's boat overcomes Italians, ties series at 1

January 27, 2000|By Bruce Stannard | Bruce Stannard,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

AUCKLAND, New Zealand -- In a dramatic comeback, AmericaOne today defeated Italy's Prada in the second race of America's Cup challengers final to even the best-of-nine series at 1-1.

The final margin -- 1 minute, 33 seconds -- suggests a walkover. But this race was far from that. It was one of the most exciting races in America's Cup history.

The lead changed four times. The light and fluky wind that shifted a total of 110 degrees to the left throughout the race played a major role in deciding the contest.

Today, the Americans certainly had luck on their side. They will need a lot more of it if they are going to advance to meet Team New Zealand in the America's Cup finals next month.

Although on paper the Italian loss looks bad, they demonstrated that boat-for-boat, their Luna Rossa is faster than AmericaOne.

The Race Committee delayed the start for almost an hour until the southeasterly wind settled in at 9 knots. AmericaOne skipper Paul Cayard went for the Committee Boat end of the start line, while Prada went for the pin end.

With 15 seconds to the start gun, Cayard was heard to say, "I want the left," but inexplicably he went right -- for the Committee Boat end. Just before the gun, a 10-degree shift to the left meant Prada had to pinch up with its transom only just clearing the buoy.

Cayard crossed the line eight seconds ahead of Luna Rossa, but the wind continued to go left, favoring the Italians. Both boats had men perched on bosun's chairs close to the top of their masts scanning the water for wind.

Clearly there was more pressure to the left, and Prada made the most of it with skipper Francesco de Angelis and tactician Torben Grael aggressively defending a boat-length lead after just five minutes. Fifteen minutes into the race, the Italians had forged a lead of six boat lengths.

Approaching the first mark, the Italians looked as if they would have to tack twice to fetch the mark, but within a half-minute of the mark they hooked into a huge shift that lifted them to the mark.

The Americans watched the Italians jibe-set their all-white gennaker around the mark 300 meters (1: 49) ahead.

On the first downwind leg, AmericaOne sailed much lower than Prada. Halfway down the leg, it had closed to within 200 meters. Two-thirds of the way down the leg, the Americans were the first to feel lifted pressure. They jibed onto port and found themselves sailing in 8.2 knots of wind, while Luna Rossa had just 6.7 knots.

The Italians still had a two-minute lead, but the Americans were closing in. During the final jibe for the leeward mark, Luna Rossa's gennaker developed a double hourglass knot, and in the scramble to untangle it, the Italians lost almost 100 meters.

At the leeward mark, AmericaOne rounded 1: 04 astern, having gained 45 seconds on the run.

The second beat was to see a reversal in American fortunes. The wind went to the left and completely wiped out the Italian lead. Halfway up the leg with Prada unable to tack because of the spectator fleet, AmericaOne had regained the lead.

Prada tacked under AmericaOne and, with only a few meters separating them, both boats settled into a drag race. Here, the Italians put on a stunning demonstration of their extraordinary upwind speed. Their Luna Rossa was sailing at least half a knot faster than AmericaOne, and within 10 minutes it went from three boat lengths astern to just 20 meters astern.

Suddenly, the Italians broke through and went ahead, one boat length, then two and then three, as both boats close-reached into the top mark. The Italians led by 18 seconds.

Prada went for a jibe-set, while AmericaOne chose a bear-away set for its gennaker. But no sooner was the Americans' gennaker set, a huge rip appeared running forward from the clew to the center of the sail. Unable to jibe because of the rip, Cayard was forced to sail into the spectator fleet while his crew hoisted a new gennaker.

AmericaOne was suddenly sailing faster again. After 10 minutes, Cayard opted to set a another gennaker and jibe back toward the center of the course. As the boats converged two thirds of the way down the leg, the Americans had not only regained the lead, but were now four or five boat lengths ahead.

But the Italians did not play dead. Four times they jibed, and four times the Americans covered. AmericaOne came round the mark 1: 27 ahead, and Cayard told his crew, "Let's just chill, guys. Everybody -- take a deep breath."

There was more pressure on the left, and Cayard was perfectly positioned to hook into it, steadily lifting farther away from Luna Rossa.

AmericaOne rounded the last mark 1: 33 ahead and set off for the finish with what proved to be an unassailable lead. And so it was. The final margin was 1: 33.

The third race of the series is scheduled for tomorrow.

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