AmericaOne ties series with suspense-filled win

But Italians' upwind speed gives Cayard pause

January 28, 2000|By Bruce Stannard | Bruce Stannard,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

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

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

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

Today's scheduled third race was postponed because of a lack of wind.

But yesterday, the Americans had luck and the wind on their side. They will need more of it if they are going to advance to meet Team New Zealand in the America's Cup finals next month, because, while on paper the Italian loss looked bad, the race demonstrated that boat-for-boat, their Luna Rossa is faster than AmericaOne.

"Obviously, today it was mostly shifty," AmericaOne skipper Paul Cayard said, referring to the wind and the speed of both boats. "There was a time when we looked fast out of the first leeward mark, then when we both tacked to port I thought we were going to roll them, and they survived and hung onto the lead. I couldn't believe they could do that from there."

AmericaOne crossed the right side of the start line eight seconds ahead of Luna Rossa, but the wind continued to move to the left, where the Italians started.

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 building a lead of six boat-lengths. The Italians continued to build their margin and rounded the first mark 1 minute, 49 seconds ahead (about 300 meters).

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 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 minute, four seconds astern, having gained 45 seconds on the run.

Then, on the second beat, luck went the Americans' way when the wind went left and wiped out the Italian lead. Halfway up the leg, with Prada unable to tack because of the spectator fleet, AmericaOne regained the lead.

Prada's Grael acknowledged the mistake of getting too close to the spectator boats.

"It was very light wind, and we were unable to tack back as soon as we wanted," Grael said. "We lost a lot of time there."

Prada tried to recover and tacked under AmericaOne. Here, the Italians put on a stunning demonstration of upwind speed.

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, 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 bearaway set for its gennaker. But a huge rip appeared running forward from the clew to the center of the AmericaOne 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 set a another gennaker and jibed back toward 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.

Challenger finals

AmericaOne vs. Prada (Best of nine; series tied 1-1)

Results, schedule

Race 1: Prada def. AmericaOne by 24 seconds.

Race 2: AmericaOne def. Prada by 1: 33.

Race 3: Tomorrow

Race 4: Sunday

Race 5: Tuesday

Race 6: Wednesday

Race 7: Thursday*

Race 8: Next Friday*

Race 9: Feb. 5 *-if necessary

Note: Winner to race Team New Zealand in America's Cup finals beginning Feb. 19.

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