Prada sails to Cup finals

Italians win showdown with AmericaOne by 49 seconds to advance

First final without U.S. boat

0: 34 lead after 1st leg paves Prada victory

February 06, 2000|By Bruce Stannard | Bruce Stannard,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

AUCKLAND, New Zealand -- Italy's silver bullet, the Luna Rossa of Prada Challenge, is to be the 30th America's Cup challenger.

The Italians earned that honor in convincing style today with a decisive 49-second win over skipper Paul Cayard's AmericaOne in the do-or-die ninth race of the best-of-nine challenger finals.

Though Cayard and his AmericaOne crew sailed well today, they were outclassed by better Italian boat speed upwind and down.

The Italians now have an excellent shot at winning the America's Cup regatta, which is to be defended by New Zealand in a best-of-nine race series beginning here Feb. 19.

This will be the first time in the America's Cup 151-year history that an American yacht has not competed in the Cup's finals.

Cayard said that while he was deeply disappointed at his defeat, he was also proud to have led the only American team to have made it all the way through the challenger finals.

"We were no doubt disadvantaged by the fact that there were five American challengers," he said, referring to the other four American syndicates. "Instead of consolidating all our energies and concentrating on just one or two and really putting our best foot forward, we ended up with five American boats. Italy put up 100 million bucks and two years to beat us by just one race.

"Today was a tough race," Cayard said. "We wanted the left [side] real hard. We got the right. It didn't work for us on the first beat."

Cayard said the key moment came on the first long tack out to the right.

"We were waiting for a righty [wind shift] out there, which happened on all the other legs, but on the first leg it went left.

"I'm real proud of AmericaOne," Cayard said. "Maybe if we can better unify America, then we will have a better chance to have a little more fun next time."

Prada syndicate chief Patrizio Bertelli, who has paid for the $55 million Italian challenge out of his pocket, told his crew this morning that they were no longer racing for Prada, but for the honor of Italy.

The message obviously struck a responsive chord. The Italian skipper, mild-mannered Neapolitan Francesco de Angelis, looked cool and in command throughout the race today. De Angelis won the start, steadily built on his lead and was never seriously threatened.

The race committee delayed the start for 40 minutes as it waited for the breeze to fill in from the southwest. At the start, the offshore wind was blowing warm and fresh at 14 knots with white-capped waves beginning to fleck the Hauraki Gulf course.

Both boats started on starboard and side by side, AmericaOne to windward and Prada just below in a safe leeward position. It was an excellent start for Luna Rossa. Ten seconds across the line, AmericaOne tacked to port, and almost immediately the Italians tacked to cover and began to build their lead.

Twenty minutes into the first beat, AmericaOne tacked to starboard. Prada tacked under Cayard's bow and forced him to tack back. Five minutes later, Cayard tried it again, but the Italians, having made a boat-length gain, were able to cross clear on port and tack in control on top of AmericaOne.

Twenty five minutes into the race, Prada was almost on the starboard layline having established a six boat-length lead of 30 seconds. At the first mark, Prada rounded 34 seconds ahead.

Two minutes after the spinnaker set, AmericaOne jibed to starboard. The Italians, matched the American jibe staying between their opponent and the mark. Six times AmericaOne jibed, and six times the Italians matched them with faultless sail handling.

At the first leeward mark, de Angelis cast a look over his shoulder. What he saw was AmericaOne 39 seconds astern. The Italians looked to have it in the bag, but with four more legs to go it was very much a boat race.

Halfway up the second beat, the Italians hooked into a right-hand wind shift of 10 degrees. Sailing higher and faster, they were about 550 feet ahead.

AmericaOne had trouble with a port jib winch. As Cayard held fast on starboard, his crew dismantled it, fixed the problem and reassembled it just in time for the tack.

The breeze was up around 20 knots now. At the windward mark, halfway round the course, Prada came round with a smooth bear-away spinnaker set, 47 seconds ahead.

There were few options left for the Americans. Jibing was one of them. Again and again, Cayard threw AmericaOne into jibes that were matched with caution and precision by the Italians.

To the end, Cayard kept engaging Prada in a tacking or jibing duel, but gained nothing. Every now and again de Angelis permitted himself a glance astern, but not a smile. That is, not until the Italians became the Cup Challenger and made a date with Team New Zealand.

Meanwhile, Cayard was reflective of his AmericaOne syndicate, in which he was the lead organizer and the lead sailor. But would he be back for another America's Cup challenge?

"I know enough never to say `never' " he said. "The post-race analysis is that I had a little too much on my plate this time and probably was not as good a sailor this time around as I was in 1995 [sailing with Dennis Conner aboard Young America].

"That was a function of all my extra responsibilities. But I like the game."

Challenger finals

AmericaOne vs. Prada

(Prada wins series, 5-4)

Race 1: Prada won by 0:4.

Race 2: Am.One won by 1: 33.

Race 3: Prada won ( Am.One withdrew, broken spreader).

Race 4: Prada won 2:32.

Race 5: Am.One won 0: 34.

Race 6: Am.One won by 0:9.

Race 7: Am.One won by 1:06.

Race 8: Prada won by 0:37

Race 9: Prada won by 0:49.

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