AMERICA ONE jostles for position against LUNA ROSSA
The elements, the spectator fleet and the never say die attitude of the AMERICA ONE crew pulled the American boat through to victory today, after she had trailed Italy's LUNA ROSSA by nearly two minutes at the first weather mark. It was the second race of the best five out of nine Louis Vuitton finals, and the slate now is clean as they go into Race Three tomorrow with one win apiece. The winner meets New Zealand for the America's Cup beginning February 19.
It was a match that perhaps should not have been sailed. The wind was very light and shifty before the scheduled 1:15 start and the Race Committee called for two half-hour postponements as they waited for the breeze to settle in. But it never did, and in fact shifted to the left more than 100 degrees throughout the contest. The rules say that the committee may delay or cancel a race if, before the start, conditions are not suitable for holding a match race. This can be too much wind, too damaging a sea, too little wind or too unsteady a signal-the boats must carry on, no matter what the conditions.
The continuing change in wind direction today not only taxed the skippers and tacticians on the racing boats, but also confused the large spectator fleet, which found itself very much in the way on at least three occasions and dramatically influenced the outcome of the event.
Off the starting line, LUNA ROSSA headed left on starboard tack and AMERICA ONE started at the other end and sailed off to the right side of the course. The on-board microphones had picked up the voice of Paul Cayard, AMERICA ONE skipper, saying before the start that he wanted to get to the left, but LUNA ROSSA's Francesco di Angelis had out-maneuvered him and grabbed the left end, leaving Cayard to start at the committee boat.
Cayard's start was better timed and when the boats first came together, the Americans had a slim lead. LUNA ROSSA began to lay off to go astern of her rival, but as she did AMERICA ONE tacked, forcing the Italians back to the left side again. Cayard said later that opinions in the cockpit of AMERICA ONE were mixed as to which side of the first leg they should be on, and that at the last instant they decided to stay to the right "based on some input before the race."
That weather input proved wrong as the Italians, well to the left, sailed into a big and continuing left-hand shift. They tacked onto port and sailed away from Cayard and crew, going higher and faster. With the wind continuing to go left, the Italians were soon on the port tack lay line and heading directly for the mark. In frustration AMERICA ONE made a final tack up to the lay line and fell in directly astern of LUNA ROSSA, which continued to pull away, looking much happier than AMERICA ONE in the light airs. She rounded the mark with a lead of 1:49.
AMERICA ONE crosses the finish line 33 seconds ahead of LUNA ROSSA
Both boats jibed onto starboard tack as they rounded the mark and sailed down the left side of the course. With the Americans doing their best to stay in the game and take advantage of every nuance of wind variation, they were frustrated to see the silver and red Italian machine continue to increase her lead. But on their last jibe to the leeward mark, LUNA ROSSA's foredeck crew, which had looked infallible in Race One, had a major spinnaker foul-up. The huge, white asymmetrical sail tied itself into an hourglass shape, with a twist half way up that caused the boat to slowdown dramatically.
The Italians hoisted the jib and dropped the spinnaker well before the mark and approached the turn a good two knots slower than they would have, if all had gone well. AMERICA ONE cut the Italian lead in two and rounded 64 seconds astern and moving faster.
As the wind was continuing to go to the left, both boats held starboard tack to take full advantage of the shift; but after several minutes of sailing, and with her American rival directly in her wake, LUNA ROSSA found herself sailing into a mess of spectator boats, which were kicking up big waves as they scrambled to keep out of the way. Although they knew it was the wrong move tactically, the Italians tacked onto port to get away from the motorboat wash.
Cayard and his tactician John Kostecki took full advantage of the Italian dilemma and shouldered through the confused water in order to stay inside the continuing wind shift. When LUNA ROSSA tacked back onto starboard, she was abeam of AMERICA ONE and as both boats got knocked even further by the wind shift, which by this time had gone more than 90 degrees since the start of the race, the Italians found themselves falling astern as they were forced to point lower and lower. AMERICA ONE tacked and could have crossed easily, but LUNA ROSSA tacked on her lee beam with wind clear.
From there it was a drag race, with both boats in the same wind and laying the windward mark. Slowly the Italians pulled out from under AMERICA ONE and sailed into a clear lead. By the time they got to the mark the wind had shifted further and they were close reaching. LUNA ROSSA made the turn 18 seconds ahead of the Californians and immediately jibed onto starboard, which should have been the favored tack. But jibing and setting the spinnaker at the same time - a maneuver called a jibe set - slows the boat down more than just laying off and hoisting the chute.
Seeing that her rival was going off on the starboard jibe, the AMERICA ONE brain trust immediately made the decision to do a bear away spinnaker set and hold port tack, looking for separation from the opposition. But the big green spinnaker snagged on the fore hatch and ripped during the hoist. They pulled it up anyway, got the jib down and then changed smoothly to another chute.
A jubilant Paul Caynard after today's win over LUNA ROSSA
There was better breeze on AMERICA ONE's side of the leg, but again they had to battle the spectator fleet, which had not anticipated the American boat's course and was scrambling to stay clear. Cayard took his big sloop in among the powerboats and their damaging wakes, but through it all the stronger wind in that area propelled him into the lead. Italian skipper Francesco di Angelis and tactician Torben Grael, who had looked so sharp in the first race, allowed the Americans to separate by nearly a mile at one point, instead of staying close and relying on their speed to keep them in contention.
By the time the boats sailed back towards each other half way down the leg, AMERICA ONE had pulled into a big lead and was never threatened throughout the rest of the race. Cayard covered the Italians' every move on the final beat to windward, always protecting the left side of the course as the wind went even further in that direction. On the final run to the finish it was textbook match racing with the Americans staying between their opposition and the finish line. The winning margin was 1:33.
At the post race press conference Italian skipper di Angelis commented on the difficulty with the spectator fleet. "It would have been better for us if they weren't there. That's something that could have been played differently. But I think that what happened during the run was what decided the race."
Dyer Jones, executive director of the America's Cup Challenger Committee, was called to the press briefing to explain why the spectator boats had been allowed to get in the way and dictate tactics of the racing boats. He said, "the wind shifted a lot. It's a tough job, not only for the sailors to sail under the conditions... but also for a race committee to set up a course and keep that course as square to the breeze as possible."
Jones noted that the committee had shifted the fourth mark to accommodate the continuing shift, and that "this put a number of yachts that were on the right hand side of the course into the middle of the course." He said the course control boats could not get the spectator craft out of the way in time.
This confusion on the race course was a black eye for the New Zealand hosts. Auckland is known as "The City of Sails" and it might have been hoped that spectators at this event could anticipate where the competitors would have to sail, and would have kept out of their way.