AmericaOne ties series with nine-second win

Italians foul rudder in sixth-race thriller

February 02, 2000|By Bruce Stannard | Bruce Stannard,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

AUCKLAND, New Zealand -- AmericaOne scored a nine-second win over Italy's Prada Challenge today to level the best-of-nine America's Cup challenger finals at three races apiece.

In an extraordinary, seesawing race -- the closest of the series -- the inexperience of the Italian crew once again weighed against them as they wrapped their spinnaker around their rudder. This slowed and distracted them and almost certainly cost them the race.

Cayard, as he did after winning the fifth race, paid tribute to his tactician, John Kostecki.

"John did an awesome job again today," he said. "He picked the shifts. The crew hung tough. We've been thinking the Italian guys were a little smoother than we were, but today my guys were right on the button."

The race began in warm, sunny conditions, with a 15-knot southwesterly breeze blowing offshore. Kostecki saw more pressure on the left and encouraged Cayard to go for the pin end.

Right at the start gun, the Italians tacked to port. Cayard held on to starboard. A slight shift to the left favored AmericaOne, and it held on for five minutes before Cayard decided that 700 meters was too much separation. He tacked back to port to stay in touch with the Italians.

In the 15th minute, Prada's boat, Luna Rossa, tacked to starboard and looked in command. As the two boats converged, it became clear Luna Rossa had lifted into a two-boat-length lead.

Ten minutes later, the wind was going left again, lifting AmericaOne. Prada jibe-set its spinnaker at the windward mark and went right.

Halfway down the run, Prada jibed to port, but Cayard held to starboard.

Cayard, sailing with greater pressure, surged up to the Italians. With just a few meters between them, Prada hoisted its jib.

The Italians seemed to hesitate in their spinnaker drop and, in the ensuing turmoil the spinnaker fell in the water forward of the bow and the boat ran over it.

Part of the spinnaker ended up wrapped around the rudder. Although Prada led at the leeward mark by 17 seconds, AmericaOne soon overhauled the Italians as they struggled to free their entangled rudder.

At first they tried using a boathook, but when that failed a crewman was held over the side. He snatched some of the sail and hauled it aboard, but clearly there was much more still below.

Ten minutes after rounding the mark, AmericaOne had established a 1 1/2-boat-length lead. AmericaOne went out almost to the port lay line and tacked to port. Prada stood on a little and also tacked. At the windward mark, Prada had closed to within 16 seconds of AmericaOne.

After bear-away sets, both boats flew off on a port jibe. Now, the Italians started a dramatic, downwind charge.

A third of the way down the leg, Prada had halved AmericaOne's lead. AmericaOne jibed to starboard, and Prada immediately followed, and now, 30 meters astern, its wind shadow fell across the American boat, and its spinnaker began to tremble.

Still, AmericaOne held off Prada, which jibed to starboard to secure the inside overlap. AmericaOne followed. With the overlap established, Prada had effectively seized control of the race.

With the leeward mark rushing up at them, headsails were hoisted. Prada dropped its spinnaker pole, but kept its kite up until the last possible moment. AmericaOne skidded round the mark just seven seconds in front. Now, the boats settled down for the last desperate beat.

The breeze was up to 22 knots, and again the Italians were relentless in attacking. With less than a third of the way up the leg, they had closed to within 20 meters of AmericaOne.

Two minutes out from the finish, the Americans threw a false jibe. The Italians went for it and jibed to starboard.

The Americans waited 15 seconds, then joined them. With one minute to go, the boats were racing neck and neck. AmericaOne edged across the finish line nine seconds ahead.

Challenger finals

AmericaOne vs. Prada (Best of nine; series tied 3-3)

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: Prada def. AmericaOne by 2: 32.

Race 5: AmericaOne def Prada by 34 seconds.

Race 6: AmericaOne def Prada by 9 seconds.

Race 7: Today 7: 15 p.m. EST (Tom. in New Zealand)

Race 8: Tomorrow 7: 15 p.m. EST (Fri. in N. Zealand)

Race 9: Friday 7: 15 p.m. EST (Sat. in New Zealand)* *-If necessary

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

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