As LUNA ROSSA advances into the America's Cup match against Team New Zealand later in the month and AMERICA ONE heads home to San Francisco, both teams can look back on the most exciting series in the history of the Louis Vuitton Cup and know that they have participated in a major change in the long America's Cup story.
|Team PRADA beats AMERICA ONE 5 races to 4. Francesco de Angelis and the Louis Vuitton Cup |
The Italian win today - a win that was accomplished through perfect tactical sailing in 12 to 20 knot winds against a determined and aggressive opponent - marks the first time in the 149-year history of the event that no American boat will be competing in the America's Cup. After some of the closest racing ever seen in either America's Cup or challenger competition, the victory for LUNA ROSSA in the ninth race of the best of nine Louis Vuitton Cup final, was one of the least exciting of the series from the spectator point of view. Students of yacht racing would see it as a text book example of match race perfection.
The Italians got the better of the start and then methodically converted the half-length advantage into a 34-second lead by the time they reached the first weather mark. From there LUNA ROSSA gained on every leg but the last and the celebration in the cockpit of the big silver and red sloop began before the race ended. As they swept towards the finish line with their huge white spinnaker trimmed to perfection and their opponent tucked safely away nearly a minute astern, the exuberant Italians could not restrain their Latin passions and began cheering, hugging, and back slapping as skipper Francesco de Angelis, a broad grin on his face, guided the boat home.
Commenting after the race on the relative speed of the boats de Angelis said, "Surely we weren't slower! I think the fact that we went to the ninth race meant that the boats were pretty close." The tall, 40-year-old Neapolitan pointed out that, " This is the first time I will be racing in the Cup. It's the first time they (the United States) will not be in the Cup. From one point of view it is sad. On the other hand it means that something is changing in the sailing world which I think is good for the sport. The more the sport is spread around the better it is."
Paul Cayard, who has not only been skipper and helmsman of AMERICA ONE throughout the long campaign, but also the leader of the St. Francis Yacht Club's overall challenge strategy, said that he had been conscious of being, in effect, "America's last hope. I'm sorry America won't be in the finals. We definitely did our best at AMERICA ONE." Cayard suggested that the overall American effort may have been spread too thin. "Having five or six teams from the United States is not the best way for us to put our best foot forward."
Today's race was the culmination of a series that saw the Italians jump to a 3-1 lead, then lose three in a row as AMERICA ONE pulled ahead 4 - 3, and then come back with two straight victories to win 5 - 4. Three races back Italian Tactician Torben Grael came under fire for guiding the Italian boat far to the left side of the course on the first leg and allowing AMERICA ONE to jump into an early and unassailable lead. It was the low point for the Italians, and seemed to mark the degeneration of the 60 million-dollar effort by their sole sponsor, the Italian fashion house Prada.
But in races four and five the same Torben Grael, Olympic Gold, Silver and Bronze medal winner, and many times world champion, demonstrated tactical supremacy right from the start that made it impossible for AMERICA ONE to find any passing lanes . In particular the final race was a classic example of this flawless strategy. Thirty seconds before the start, skipper de Angelis got tight to leeward of AMERICA ONE and forced the American boat into the wind below the committee boat. Then LUNA ROSSA bore off just enough to pick up speed and again squeezed up under the Californians. At the gun LUNA ROSSA had a lead of half a length and was moving faster. AMERICA ONE was forced to tack away immediately after crossing the line, and when the Italians covered there was a long drag race towards the starboard tack lay line, with neither boat able to gain the upper hand. AMERICA ONE tacked onto starboard, and with the right of way, forced LUNA ROSSA to tack. But again the Italians were tight under the bow of Cayard's boat and he was forced back to the right.
This process was repeated twice, with the Italians gaining almost imperceptibly, but the third time they came together LUNA ROSSA was able to cross and tack to weather of the Americans. It was difficult to tell whether the gain was through better speed, smoother tacking, or minor wind shifts. By now the boats were near the starboard tack lay line and the wind began to pull to the right so that both could point above the mark. From there is was a procession to the first turn, with LUNA ROSSA continuing to show better form and pulling out to a 34- second lead.
|AMERICA ONE and PRADA crossing the starting line |
Down the first run AMERICA ONE frantically played the shifts in an effort to dig into the Italian lead, and half way down the leg it appeared she had gained. But de Angelis and Grael kept the silver and red bullet between their opponent and the leeward mark. When they got to the turn they had increased their lead by five seconds.
Up the second weather leg the Italians again covered closely and appeared to be pulling away when the port main winch on AMERICA ONE broke and she was unable to tack onto starboard for several minutes while repairs were made. The fast-moving American crew took the drum from one of the mainsheet winches and used it to replace the primary. From there on, they had to work harder to sheet the jib when tacking from port to starboard, but in the moderate air it was not a problem that affected the outcome - just another bad moment in a very bad day.
LUNA ROSSA had put on another eight seconds by the time the boats rounded the weather mark for the second time. Sailing down the fourth leg of the six-legged course, they stretched their lead again to round 52 seconds ahead. It was beginning to be a rout and as Torben Grael picked every shift and change in wind strength to perfection up the last weather leg, the Italians stretched their lead to one minute and six seconds. To this point they had gained on every leg of the course.
On the run to the finish LUNA ROSSA cruised conservatively , staying between AMERICA ONE and the line. Cayard and crew, tasting the bitterness of defeat after their exhaustive two-year effort, nevertheless kept the pressure on as best they could, jibing or heading up on the shifts and trying to stay in the 20- knot gusts that were now spreading down the course.
It was all to no avail. Although they made small gains, they crossed the finish line 49 seconds astern of the boat that had just become the challenger in America's Cup 2000.