Cayard winning matchup

American skipper gives counterpart a lesson

February 03, 2000|By Bruce Stannard | Bruce Stannard,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

AUCKLAND, New Zealand -- Two years ago, Prada's America's Cup skipper Francesco de Angelis knew nothing about the art of match racing. There are some among the American contingent here who maintain that that is still the case.

They are wrong.

During the past four months and the past few days in particular, de Angelis has learned the hard way that match racing at the America's Cup level is very much like back-street brawling.

In the past two races alone, AmericaOne skipper Paul Cayard has shown de Angelis how to win tight races while bringing his American entry back from a 3-1 deficit to knot the best-of-nine challengers series at three victories apiece. AmericaOne won Race 5 by 34 seconds on Tuesday, then captured Race 6 yesterday by nine seconds.

Race 7 was postponed today because of insufficient wind. It was rescheduled for tomorrow (1: 15 p.m. Auckland time; 7: 15 EST tonight), when the forecast calls for a breeze of 15 to 20 knots.

America's Cup races have rules, of course, and penalties for those who disobey them, but the outcome of these remarkable match races, more often than not, depends upon sheer bravado: Who dares, wins.

In AmericaOne's Cayard, de Angelis is facing one of the most experienced, battle-hardened and courageous match-race skippers.

Cayard is a 40-year-old San Franciscan who has been racing sailboats since he was 10. This is his fourth America's Cup. Having won the grueling Whitbread Round the World Race in 1998, he is the sailors' sailor, par excellence. On the racecourse, Cayard is a killer.

De Angelis, on the other hand, is a Neapolitan gentleman. Tall and handsome, de Angelis appears cool and aloof. His nickname is Baroni -- the Baron. Trying to explain the subtlety behind that tag, an Italian sailor explained, "Baroni, the aristocrat."

In each of their racing encounters, Cayard has shown de Angelis that he can't afford to be aloof; he's got to get down in the gutter and fight. That requires cunning as well as split-second timing.

Sixty seconds before the start of Tuesday's fifth race, Cayard adroitly drew the Italians off behind the line on port tack. With 20 seconds to the gun, it looked as though the Italians had pushed him right off the line. Trouble was, they were not quite close enough to shut him out.

Then in a brilliant maneuver, Cayard suddenly flipped to starboard (with right of way) and squeezed inside the committee boat with just inches to spare.

It was so close that the race committee members leaped back and gasped as the giant rig passed over their heads.

The Italians tacked under them, and, at that moment, their race was as good as over.

"The start was the key element," Cayard said. "We pushed it hard, cut it close, and it worked out good for us."

Later in the race, Cayard taught the Italians another expensive lesson when he threw a dummy jibe at them downwind. The Italians fell for it, over-reacted, and, aided by the boom that clouted de Angelis on the head, their boat went spinning out of control in a wild broach.

In yesterday's race six, Cayard threw de Angelis yet another dummy jibe. Just as they had done the day before, the Italians fell for it, jibed away, and Cayard succeeded in clearing his air downwind.

Then the Italians caught themselves up in their own spinnaker foul-up. Their kite came down in the water ahead of the boat, and they sailed right over it. The huge white spinnaker made a fine trawler's net draped around the torpedo-shaped keel and the rudder. In de Angelis' own words, his boat "went sideways big-time."

In these challenger finals, Prada and AmericaOne have near identical boat speed. The Italians have spent $55 million, while the Americans have spent $32 million. Yet the only significant difference between them lies in the experience of the men on board.

There's an old Italian saying, "If you cannot kill your enemy, embrace him."

If Prada is to defeat AmericaOne in this series, Francesco de Angelis, the Gentleman from Naples, will have to embrace Paul Cayard's tactics and, like a street fighter, go after him.

Meanwhile, AmericaOne and Prada milled about on a glassy sea for two hours today waiting for the start of Race 7 before the committee boat signaled them to go home.

"It's a good call," Cayard said. "In conditions like this, racing becomes no more than a lottery. A 10-degree shift or one knot more wind can make a huge difference in very light air.

"I think we would all like a breeze," he said. "It's nerve-wracking. We want to get on with it."

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