Racing for the Louis Vuitton Cup was cancelled today due to lack of wind, and will resume tomorrow with the seventh race of the series. Italy's LUNA ROSSA and AMERICA ONE from the St. Francis Yacht Club of San Francisco are deadlocked at three races each in the best five of nine series. Following is the account of yesterday's sixth race.
Prada trails behind America One after wrapping her spinnaker around the keel.
The score is tied at three races each and the series has been reduced to the best two of three races in the Louis Vuitton Cup finals. Today AMERICA ONE eked out a win over LUNA ROSSA in a match in which the boats were never more than 20 seconds apart at any mark rounding. The finish margin was nine seconds.
Rather than demonstrating superior speed, Paul Cayard and his Californians showed patience and "hang in there" tactics to come from behind and claim the victory. The series had begun as the best five out of nine races, and Italy had jumped to a 3 - 1 lead after four races. Now, the first boat to win two races will advance to sail against New Zealand in the America's Cup beginning February 19.
Today's struggle, sailed in gusty, shifty winds that ranged from 17 to 25 knots, could easily have gone the other way if the Italian crew had not botched a spinnaker drop and ended up with pieces of their huge white chute wrapped around their keel and rudder. The problem was typical of athletes working very hard under extreme pressure.
Having headed to the right side of the course off the starting line, and benefiting from a wind shift to the right, the Italians led around the first mark by four boat lengths. On the run they held even, with both boats having jibed early onto starboard tack. Well down the leg LUNA ROSSA jibed onto port to get to the left of the American boat so they would have the starboard tack advantage further down the course. AMERICA ONE started to jibe with the Italians, but then aborted the maneuver and continued on starboard. When LUNA ROSSA came back onto starboard to sail parallel to her opponent, the wind blasted in from the right and AMERICA ONE, almost planing in the 25-knot gust, quickly closed the gap.
To leeward of AMERICA ONE Italian skipper Francesco di Angeles sailed high and held the America boat well above the course to the leeward mark. They sailed past the lay line, but as AMERICA ONE pulled even to windward and then poked her bow into the lead, LUNA ROSSA jibed for the mark with AMERICA ONE following right on her transom. The American jibe went very smoothly, but the Italians had difficulty getting the spinnaker out of the water and onto the foredeck, ripping it in the process. They didn't know it immediately, but big chunks of the $70,000 sail were tangled in the keel and rudder.
The Italian boat rounded the mark with AMERICA ONE almost overlapped and started up the second weather leg with the slimmest of leads. But the usually nimble LUNA ROSSA was not her old self. AMERICA ONE was pointing higher and going faster and soon drew abreast. Aboard LUNA ROSSA di Angeles complained that the helm did not feel right, that he was having difficulty steering. Just before the mark rounding his crew had realized that pieces of the spinnaker had wrapped themselves around the keel and rudder and after the turn they began desperately to clear it. They got a big piece off the keel, but had greater difficulty clearing the rudder.
As they sailed upwind tactician Torben Grael was dangled over the starboard quarter of the boat, with crewmembers hanging onto his legs and feet so he could reach down to untangle the mess. It took several minutes to get the main piece clear, and then they worked with a long flexible rod, made especially for the job, to scrape the rest of the tenacious material off the rudder blade.
At the post race press conference di Angelis said, "The boat wasn't giving its best performance - especially upwind it was painful. The boat was going sideways - to leeward - big time."
While the Italians struggled AMERICA ONE sailed into the lead. With the keel and rudder finally cleared, LUNA ROSSA made a partial comeback, which was aided by AMERICA ONE getting an override on a jib winch and having to cut it clear. She sailed for several seconds with the jib improperly trimmed. At the final weather mark LUNA ROSA was only 16 seconds back, and was unable to catch the American boat on the run to the finish, although closing the gap to nine seconds
The Italian sails are made of material called Cuben Fiber, which was developed in 1992 by Bill Koch's research team during his campaign to win the cup that year. It is sold under the name Spectra and is extremely strong and stretch-free. Spectra is fabricated by hand and is very expensive. Cayard has claimed that the well financed LUNA ROSSA challenge bought all the available Spectra two years ago so that no other contender could use it. The Italians deny this and say the material is available on the market, but at very high cost.
AMERICA ONE has had great difficulty keeping her big green Nylon spinnakers from ripping. She has lost eight of them during the Louis Vuitton series, and some of the blow-ups have come at critical times. There has been a suggestion that the green dye used in the sails has made the cloth weaker.
In this final series Cayard has made frequent reference to the seemingly bulletproof Italian spinnakers, which have not shown any tendency
Steffi Graff joins the crew of America One
to tear even under the most trying conditions. So after today's race the American skipper had a field day with the LUNA ROSSA spinnaker problem. He said, "That stuff is bad when it gets around the rudder. Our stuff just goes away like toilet paper."
With his trademark smile turned back on after today's victory, Cayard also talked about having tennis great Steffi Graff aboard as the "17th man." The 17th crew position is usually filled by a dignitary or major contributor to the syndicate. He or she is not allowed to participate in sailing the boat. Cayard said that "Yesterday Steffi Graf came for a tour of the base, and she was pretty excited about it.... and asked if it was possible to have a ride. She is a very competitive person and we gave her the best the sport has to offer. When we finished she was very quickly up by the wheels and ecstatic that we had won."
Cayard did not say whether the multi millionaire athlete had paid for her ride with a new Spectra spinnaker.