AmericaOne lowers boom, is win away

Rout gives Cayard third victory in row, 4-3 challenger lead

February 04, 2000|By Bruce Stannard | Bruce Stannard,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

AUCKLAND, New Zealand -- Paul Cayard's AmericaOne scored a humiliating, 1-minute, 6-second victory over Italy's Prada Challenge today to take a 4-3 lead in the best-of-nine America's Cup challenger finals.

The Italians threw the race away at the start when they split tacks and went to the left side of the course, enabling the Americans to go right.

Cayard's crew, once down 3-1, has won three straight races and can become the 30th America's Cup challenger with a victory tomorrow or, if needed, Sunday.

In the hour before the start, the Italians, using both their boats to tune up on the course, saw the wind go left. They obviously became convinced that would continue.

The Americans, without benefit of a trial horse, simply looked at the breeze, listened to their weather specialists and decided that the right side would be better. It was.

The race, perhaps the series' most crucial, was won and lost with that decision.

AmericaOne tactician John Kostecki said he never doubted AmericaOne would bounce back from 3-1 down.

"Paul and I are both winners," he said. "We knew we could do it. It was just a matter of hanging in there, believing in ourselves and in our boat. Everybody has been doing a great job. We are just going to keep on pushing hard."

Even after the Italians realized their mistake at the start, they made no attempt to tack back. Instead, they stayed where they were, compounding their error with each moment.

Kostecki confirmed that Cayard had made up his mind well before the start that he wanted the right side of the course.

"We could see Prada had a little more pressure on the left," Kostecki said, "but we found ourselves on a lifted tack. It was basic sailboat racing. We just stayed on the lifted tack."

Cayard said his win today was greatly assisted by his experience from the 1992 America's Cup challenger series, in which he had been down 3-1 and had to come back.

"I've seen this movie before," he said. "Experience sure means a lot to me. Now, we figure the hardest races are behind us. We are not going to let up at all, but I figure we are in a better position today than we were yesterday."

At the start, the wind, just west of south, was blowing at 10 knots.

After an aggressive dial-up in which the boats constantly circled each other, Cayard broke away and went for the committee boat end of the start line on port tack, while the Italians split and went for the pin end on starboard.

The Americans took the right side of the course, and they held on all the way to the lay line. The Italians held on for two minutes before tacking to port.

In the fifth minute, Prada tacked back to starboard. They were more than 600 meters apart, but data from on-board computers appeared to show the Italians in the lead. Then almost immediately a shift to the right lifted AmericaOne into a two boat-length lead.

AmericaOne tacked back to starboard in the 10th minute. In the 15th minute, AmericaOne had built a 300-meter lead.

The breeze continued to rotate to the right, and Cayard sailed to the right lay line and tacked for the mark. Prada tacked to port, and as the boats converged the extent of the gap became clear. The difference at the first mark was a soul-destroying 1: 19 -- by far the biggest margin in the series.

Prada's only hope at that point lay in mechanical disaster overtaking AmericaOne. It did not have to wait long.

Within seconds of the mark rounding, AmericaOne's hydraulic boom vang exploded and allowed the carbon fiber boom controlling the foot of the mainsail to rear up and spill the force of the wind.

It was as if Cayard suddenly had taken his foot off the accelerator. While the Americans struggled to rig a block and tackle makeshift vang, the Italians jibed onto starboard. They held on for five minutes then jibed back to port.

But AmericaOne had better pressure in the center of the course, and the rich got a whole lot richer. At the first leeward mark, AmericaOne led by 1: 13.

On the third leg, AmericaOne continued on port tack, with the Italians on starboard, but with 400 meters of separation, Cayard came back and, with the breeze continuing to the right, the Americans built on their massive lead.

Cayard looked over his shoulder at the Italians and said tersely, "Prada's going down big-time."

The lead after three legs was a humiliating 2: 31.

Blast tonight

Opponent: Buffalo Blizzard

Site: Marine Midland Arena, Buffalo, N.Y.

Time: 7: 30

Radio: WCBM (680 AM)

Outlook: Buffalo has won seven of its last 10 games, including two last weekend. Blizzard F Andrew Crawford leads the team in points (69). The teams split two earlier meetings. The Blast will be without J.J. Kremer (groin) and Doug Neely (back).

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