In some of the closest racing seen so far in this regatta, Italy's Luna Rossa
fought off a determined attempt by France's Le Defi
to get back into the series, and America One
was able to shake off a strong Japanese surge, downing Asura
by 24 seconds, the largest lead of the race. Luna Rossa
's win against the hapless French came, in spite of the Italians having to do two penalty turns, as a result of an incident at the second leeward mark while they were slightly behind Le Defi
The third pair of semifinalists, America True and Stars & Stripes, stayed ashore while work continued on the damage caused to the stern of Stars & Stripes in a collision with the French on Wednesday. As the boat was being repaired Team Dennis Conner awaited the results of a protest against them by Japan under the "country of origin" rule. The protest claims the American boat used a rudder in Sunday's race that was not built in either the U.S.A. or New Zealand. A ruling against Team Dennis Conner could result in their victory in that race being cancelled and one point being removed from their score total.
In brief, the rule states that a boat must be designed and built in its home country, but after it has been shipped to New Zealand it may use underwater appendages (keel, rudder, wings, etc. ) built in New Zealand provided they are designed by a national of the challenging country.
At a meeting earlier today the International Jury heard evidence that the rudder was in fact built in Australia, but designed by the Stars & Stripes design team. The jury then turned the matter over to the Arbitration Panel, a five-man committee set up specifically to handle disputes between challengers and the defending New Zealanders. Any country of origin dispute is considered a matter between the defenders and challengers and must be decided by the Arbitration Panel.
The matter came to light after Stars & Stripes called for a re-measurement following the race last Sunday in which she beat the Japanese. Boats are allowed to make one underwater change during any series, including the semifinals, but then must be re-measured before racing again. The fact that Conner's boat was re-measured indicated that she had made an underwater change of some sort. The jury was told that after the race on Sunday the shore team had replaced the rudder with one made in the USA. As all five members of the international panel - two New Zealanders, two Americans and one Brazilian - are in Auckland at the present time the decision is expected later today.
On the race course today the wind was 10 to 15 knots, skies were clear and the seas were flat. It seemed to be a perfect day for racing, but the French would have liked a knot or two less wind and the Italians a knot or two more. As it turned out, the breeze rose throughout the afternoon and although the French boat was very competitive with Luna Rossa early in the match, she fell behind as the wind picked up. In fact the Italians were able to do two penalty turns and still come out on top.
From an even start that saw the Italians to the left of Le Defi, the boats remained very close throughout the first leg, with the French boat looking for a wind shift to the right, but not finding any of significance. At the first mark Luna Rossa squeezed around 13 seconds ahead. The French jibed away from the Italian boat and showing their usual downwind speed they pulled even, and when the pair converged half way down the leg Le Defi had a very narrow lead.
Affecting the French boat's wind from astern, the Italians gained an overlap outside Le Defi . The mark was intended to be left on their starboard side, but both boats were on starboard, aiming well to the right of the mark. The Italians gained an overlap from astern and then luffed in an effort to keep the French from jibing for the mark. They were penalized for luffing. Both boats then jibed, dropping their spinnakers and hoisting their jibs, but the maneuver had given the Italians a three -length lead, and they were therefore assessed another penalty in accordance with match race rule C10.3b for gaining a substantial advantage from the first foul.
When a yacht is assessed a second penalty it must exonerate itself immediately, so Luna Rossa did a penalty turn and then set out after Le Defi in the ever-increasing breeze. To win this one they would have to pass the French and draw far enough ahead to have time to do their second penalty turn. With the boats as even as they had been so far, this seemed like an impossible task.
The French held the lead up the second weather leg, rounding 13 seconds ahead of the hard charging Luna Rossa. On the second run the Italian boat was able to stay close to Le Defi, which usually has a distinct advantage over her opponents on this point of sailing. Rounding close astern, and with the wind now up in the 15-knot range, the Italian boat immediately tacked onto port and headed for the right side of the course. Le Defi did not follow immediately, perhaps feeling the Italians were too close to be covered effectively, or that Luna Rossa was going so well in the increasing wind that Le Defi would be better off staying away and looking for advantageous shifts on the left side of the course. It was revealed later that the French boat had suffered damage to its trim tab, a flap on the trailing edge of the keel that effects upwind efficiency.
When they converged a third of the way up the leg,the Italian boat had a slight lead and went on to increase it rapidly. By the time she was three quarters of the way to the windward mark, Luna Rossa was far enough ahead to do her remaining penalty turn and still hold her lead. The race was still very close, but on the run to the finish Le Defi was unable to make any significant gain and the Italian boat crossed the line with a margin of 18 seconds.
The match between America One and Japan's Asura was also a nail-biter in its early stages. At the helm of Asura, Peter Gilmour led the California boat away from the starting area with a minute to go, and then broke back first and headed for the left end of the line. The Japanese boat crossed first, but with less speed and all the way up the first leg neither boat was able to gain a clear lead. By virtue of being on the right side of the course, Cayard was able to maintain the starboard tack advantage each time they met and rounded the mark with a one length lead.
Down the run Asura seemed a bit faster and gained an overlap twice, only to have America One break clear. The San Francisco boat held her edge at the bottom turn and then picked a left hand shift early on the second weather leg to pop into a safer lead. Gilmour initiated an exhaustive tacking duel in an attempt to cause a mix-up on the American boat that would give him a chance to pounce, but Cayard covered skillfully and the Japanese were not able to re-gain their threatening position. Although never able to get more than two or three lengths ahead, Cayard held the advantage to win by 23 seconds.
America One now has three wins to one loss. Stars & Stripes did not sail today and her race against America True has been postponed until the end of the series, but if she does not have her Race One point taken away by the Arbitration Panel she also has three points, with one race in hand. Luna Rossa seems to be back on track after being beaten by Stars & Stripes in Race Two and losing her mast in Race Three. Along with Asura she now stands at 2-2.. Dawn Riley's America True has two losses and one victory, but, like Stars & Stripes, has sailed one race fewer than her competitors. Le Defi has yet to win a race, although she has shown remarkable speed at times. Having been assessed one half point for causing damage to Stars & Stripes in their Race Three foul, she stands at minus one point.