Crippled AmericaOne trails 2-1

Broken spreader forces U.S. yacht to withdraw

Prada masters rough ride

January 29, 2000|By Bruce Stannard | Bruce Stannard,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

AUCKLAND, New Zealand -- Italy's Prada Challenge scored its second decisive win over AmericaOne today in boisterous winds and seas to take a 2-1 lead in the best-of-nine America's Cup challenger finals.

AmericaOne was dogged by peril throughout the race and was trailing the Italians by at least a minute when, halfway up the third beat, a broken spreader forced the withdrawal of Paul Cayard's San Francisco boat.

It was the last in a series of misfortunes for the American boat. Just moments before, while running before the wind at 14 knots and with the leeward mark rushing up at it, AmericaOne's bow speared deep into the trough of a huge wave.

Cayard's boat seemed to stop dead and stagger. The tremendous pressure immediately exploded its huge lime-green spinnaker and washed its jib off the foredeck.

AmericaOne appeared out of control as its tattered spinnaker streamed off to leeward, and a chase boat went to pick up the half-submerged jib in the surf.

By contrast, the Italians showed mastery of the rough, dangerous conditions. A lot of racing lies ahead, but the Italians demonstrated that they have what it takes to win the right to challenge Cup defender New Zealand next month.

Cayard conceded that his best racing mast, which was damaged badly in today's race, is essentially a write-off and will not be used again in this series.

Though Cayard declined to pinpoint the problem with the mast, he did say it had been "degenerating pretty good out there."

Cayard said he would step his spare mast overnight and have it readied for tomorrow's fourth race.

Under questioning, he acknowledge he has no other mast. This puts AmericaOne in a vulnerable position, especially because the forecast for tomorrow's race calls for a repeat of today's 25-knot northerlies.

"I heard cracking sounds all day," he said. "I tell you, it's not a pleasant sound."

Cayard said the spinnaker's explosion had released tremendous pressure in the rig and had saved the entire mast from coming down.

But he refused to dismiss his loss as bad luck.

"I do not believe in bad luck," Cayard said. "The Italians did an awesome job today. They deserved their win."

When the pressure came on today, it was the Americans who literally fell apart. That was both a surprise and disappointment to those who had expected their greater experience to be decisive.

The race began in boisterous, borderline conditions -- cold, northerly winds gusting to 20 knots and seas to 1.5 meters. Both boats hit the start line even on starboard tacks, blasting to windward at better than 10 knots.

Within the first 10 minutes, it became clear that although Italy's boat, Luna Rossa, was lifting a little higher, AmericaOne was sailing slightly faster -- but not enough to cross the Italians' bow.

In the 15th minute, the Italians tacked first. Immediately, Cayard covered. The boats went on like that, with the Americans holding a slim lead. Within a minute of the windward mark, the Italians threw a tack. Cayard covered, and the Italians went back.

Cayard got to the mark 10 seconds ahead and set his spinnaker. The Italians flew their white kite.

In a wild, downwind sleigh-ride, both boats were surfing at 14 to 15 knots, tossing sheets of white water away from their bows.

The Italians sailed deep, and Cayard failed to cover. Luna Rossa caught wave after wave and surfed down on top of the Americans, caught them to windward, and passed to leeward on starboard.

At that moment, AmericaOne went into a wild broach with the tip of its spinnaker pole plunging into the water. The boat lifted and rolled with the spinnaker flying out so far that it touched Luna Rossa. It was an infringement. Umpires ordered AmericaOne to execute a 270-degree penalty turn some time during the race.

The Americans were in trouble.

Prada rounded the leeward mark 23 seconds ahead. On the second windward leg, the breeze was gusting to 25 knots, and the boats reared and plunged on the white and lumpy water.

To compound AmericaOne's problems, it had difficulty hauling its code 5 headsail all the way up the mast, and that lack of tension in the luff reduced its ability to point and drive to windward.

The Italians methodically worked to windward, going faster and higher. The wind was easing slightly, but still gusting above 20 knots. Luna Rossa rounded the windward mark 45 seconds clear, a gain of 23 seconds.

Both boats set port spinnakers, and again they went tearing downwind at better than 14 knots. On-board cameras and microphones conveyed the wild, shrieking cries of the crews, the howling of wire sheets on winch-drums.

Cayard jibed to starboard. The Italians covered. Cayard jibed back. The Italians covered. At that point, AmericaOne plunged its bow into the wave, blew out its spinnaker and staggered.

The Italians were in control, rounding 51 seconds ahead, a gain of six seconds. AmericaOne rounded bareheaded as its crew struggled to hoist a backup jib. Halfway up the beat, AmericaOne went head-to-wind, signaling a broken spreader, which could have brought down the entire rig.

The Italians did not look back and sailed uncontested the rest of the way for their second victory.

Challenger finals

AmericaOne vs. Prada (Best of nine; Prada leads, 2-1)

Results, schedule

Race 1: Prada def. AmericaOne by 24 seconds.

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

Race 3: Prada def. AmericaOne, which withdrew with a broken spreader.

Race 4: Tomorrow

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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