The Italian challenger and New Zealand defender bobbled among the huge spectator fleet for more than two hours Saturday waiting for enough wind to start Race Four of America's Cup 2000; but the expected, moderate sea breeze failed to develop and the race was postponed until 1:15 pm on Tuesday ( 7:15 pm Monday EST, and 4:15 PST.) It was the third time in this best-of-nine series that a race has had to be called off due to too little wind on the Hauraki Gulf, an expanse of water just north of Auckland that is noted for its strong winds.
The score remains at three races for Team New Zealand to none for Italy's Luna Rossa as the Italian challengers struggle to find the combination of race strategy, speed and good fortune that will put them on the scoreboard.
|"Another Decisive Victory for Team New Zealand."|
With a third decisive victory in medium conditions the big question finally was answered on Saturday. Yes, New Zealand's NZL 60 is faster than Italy's ITA 45, and the struggling Italians are in a desperate battle to win even one race in the best-of-nine series. The victory leaves Team New Zealand only two races from another America's Cup victory, and the Italians will have to win five of the next six to take the cup away.
Although the New Zealanders have continued to say at the post race press conferences that they see no speed difference in the boats and the Italians say they would do better if they could improve their starting tactics, it has become clear that the black boat is faster than the silver onemarginally faster at times and considerably faster at other times.
The boats started at opposite ends of the line with Luna Rossa at the left and Team New Zealand well to windward. Both had clear air and were up to speed, but again the home team was on the right side, looking for better wind. Their position gave them the starboard-tack advantage each time the boats came together, but they did not find any wind shift to the right. In fact, the wind pulled slowly to the left more than 15 degrees as the boats went through 15 tacks. The slow shift to the left should have given the Italian boat a clear edge, but the Kiwis arrived at the weather mark with a lead of 19 seconds.
At times as the boats met on opposite tacks, there was no gain or loss from the previous encounter, but almost imperceptibly at first, and then more obviously, the big, black sloop began to gain a few feet with each encounter, until she had a clear lead and the Italians were given no choice but to fall in behind and follow around the mark. The defender's advantage was not just raw speed in a straight line; she tacked and got up to speed faster, she was able to point high to advantage and foot off with devastating results.
Again it was the impeccable starting tactics of the New Zealanders that won them the right side of the course. NZL 60 entered the starting area from the right side, which gave her the starboard-tack advantage, but this time Italian skipper Francesco de Angelis was able to shake off the Kiwis and head towards the race committee boat. Not far behind him at the wheel of NZL 60, and in a position to control the action, was the pit bull of match racing, Russell Coutts.
Coutts hassled the Italians for the next two minutes and then dropped in behind them, forcing them toward the line. If Luna Rossa had tacked to gain the right end of the line, the boat would have been in peril of NZL 60 forcing them over too soon, so the Italians reluctantly opted for the left. At the gun, they were near the pin and three seconds off the line, while the defenders were up to speed about a third of the way down the line from the committee boat, and came within a whisker of being over early.
The Italians tacked almost immediately in a first desperate effort to gain the right side, but they could not come close to crossing and NZL 60 tacked on their lee bow. For a minute or two the Italian boat seemed to lift out to windward, but as the Kiwis got up to speed and began to pinch to weather, Luna Rossa bailed out to the left. This sequence continued up the leg, with the challengers appearing to hold their position each time; but with the wind going slowly left they should have been gaining.
When the wind stopped pulling left two thirds of the way up the beat, Team New Zealand bounced into a clear lead and was not seriously threatened from then on.
The New Zealand boat is capable of higher speeds than Luna Rossa. When she lays off, even three of four degrees. Her speed jumps dramatically. She will hold even with her competitor in normal upwind mode, but given the opportunity to lay off a little she will leap forward. Her slightly greater beam gives her a bit more stability, so when she bears off, instead of healing over and gaining speed slowly, she seems to stand up to the extra pressure and jump ahead. So far in this series she has not been behind at any mark of the course.
At the post-race press conference New Zealand design coordinator Tom Schnackenberg declined to give any insight into the physical details of the boat. "I don't really want to talk about that." He said, "it is all part of a continuum. It is not just one or two modes, it is much more complex than that." It must be assumed that what Schnackenberg meant by a "continuum" was the ongoing design development that began for the New Zealanders before the 1995 America's Cup match, which they won five races to none against Dennis Conner.
This design package applies to all parts of the boat and rig, and it is noteworthy that the New Zealand sails are different from those on the Italian boat. The Kiwi main is fuller, which may be part of the reason for her ability to accelerate quickly. Her mast is stiffer, which gives better control over the deep mainsail. The boat has a bow that has not been seen before on an America's Cup boata bit steeper out of the water for additional measured sailing length, and it is combined with a very long stern overhang for extra sailing length when heeled over. The winglets on the keel's ballast bulb are placed close to the center of the bulb, rather than at the aft end, as with other AC boats. These features have been revealed, but what unseen goodies might be lurking in the bowels of the New Zealand hull, or inside her spaceage mast, or what subtle sophistication could be working to advantage in her sails, keel and rudder, are Kiwi secrets and likely to remain so.
Schnackenberg's statement is a clear indication that these are not haphazard differences, but are part of the overall design scheme, which the Kiwis expect to extend well beyond America's Cup 2000.
On the first downwind leg of Saturday's race, the wind eased off to about 10 knots and the boats held virtually even, with Luna Rossa gaining one second. But at the start of the second weather leg, the Kiwis doubled their lead quickly as they sailed into an increasing breeze. With this extra elbow room, they were able to play the shifts and find the patches of greater wind to work out to 1:11, at the second weather mark.
Near the bottom of the second run, the New Zealand spinnaker developed a tear along the bottom when it snagged on a snapshackle during a jibe. But the foot cord on the sail held as they were approaching the leeward mark and they took a chance on it not ripping further, and left it flying. Again their decision was the right one and they headed into the final weather leg with a one-minute lead.
The last beat to windward was more of the same, with NZL 60 playing the wind to perfection and gaining 43 seconds. They held nearly all of this to the finish to cross 1:39 in the lead. Again the reaction on the New Zealand boat was subdued and professionala few hand shakes, and couple of back slaps and a determination to keep up the good work.