Race Four Louis Vuitton Finals - SailNet Community
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Race Four Louis Vuitton Finals

For most of Sunday's race it appeared Paul Cayard and his AMERICA ONE crew had avenged the manhandling they had suffered at the hands of the Italians in the rough and tumble contest the day before. Early in the second leg, they twice luffed LUNA ROSSA almost head to wind first on one jibe and then on the other, and left the Italian boat dead in the water with spinnaker thrashing off to leeward.

Then after trailing for the next four and a half legs of the six-legged course, LUNA ROSSA charged down the final run, erased the American boat's lead, established an overlap only 200 yards from the finish and then forced a foul against Cayard, which gave the race to the Italians. In the annals of Louis Vuitton Cup racing, it must be recorded as the most exciting comeback ever.

The abrupt reversal of fortune that gave the race to LUNA ROSSA, shot the Italians into a 3-1 lead in the Louis Vuitton Cup finals, leaving them only two victories from becoming the official challengers for the America's Cup.

The penalty call against AMERICA ONE at the finish was a huge disappointment to the California challengers, who had sailed a near faultless race to that time, although again there were problems with their spinnaker handling. At the post race press conference Cayard said, "We all feel pretty cheated, I guess, by the call. We cannot for the life of us understand it. It was a quick call for a big money race; it shuffled the deck big time." Then he displayed the celebrated Cayard determination when he added, "That's all right we don't mind 3-1."

The penalty was assessed as the boats charged for the finish line. AMERICA ONE, which had been 39 seconds ahead at the last weather mark and had watched the Italian boat erase the lead by playing the jibe angles to perfection, jibed from port to starboard close in front of the Italians, who were riding up on a puff and closing fast. LUNA ROSSA established an overlap to leeward of AMERICA ONE only 200 yards from the finish. Cayard's explanation of the dramatic Italian gain was, "They were just bringing a line of wind down to us. They had three more knots of wind than we did."

The on-water judges assessed the penalty to AMERICA ONE for sailing below its course after the jibe. Cayard said later, " We had a bad jibe. The pole failed to trip. The spinnaker had a problem, and part of that was me reacting to Prada's course, which was 10 degrees above a proper course." The judges disagreed, holding that it was the American boat that was off course, forcing the Italians to sail too low. One of the judges on station behind the boats claimed that the leech of AMERICA ONE's mainsail hit LUNA ROSSA's spinnaker, but that even if there had not been contact, the American boat was sailing below its proper course and should have been penalized.

At the start of the match the boats sailed bow to bow on a long starboard tack to the port tack lay line. LUNA ROSSA was to leeward and struggled gamely in the 17 knot wind to work up under AMERICA ONE and force her to tack away. Cayard was able to hold position, gaining a bit as the wind shifted right, then losing it again when the wind went to the left. They tacked on the lay line with AMERICA ONE just ahead and to leeward. With the wind going more to the left and increasing, the boats were lifted well above the course to the mark and AMERICA ONE was able to ease sheets and head for the turn with LUNA ROSSA directly in her wake - only seconds astern.

At the rounding, both boats set spinnakers on port tack, but jibed after a few minutes and sailed a long starboard tack. AMERICA ONE pulled away at first, then LUNA ROSSA clawed back into contention in the increasing wind. When both jibed back onto port, the Italians were sitting right on AMERICA ONE's wind and closing fast. Cayard threw the inevitable luff and the spinnakers of both boats started to flog wildly. Again it was the American chute that blew up - the eighth time in the Louis Vuitton series, which began in October, that one of Cayard's big green spinnakers had ripped.

AMERICA ONE quickly hoisted a jib as the spinnaker continued to fly straight out from the masthead, with neither sheet attached. Cayard then had the opportunity to luff the Italians while they were trying to subdue their huge white chute, which did not rip while thrashing wildly out of control. Cayard came up slowly, but later Italian tactician Torben Grael said the American boat should not have luffed further in the 25 knots wind while the Italian boat still had a spinnaker flying. "If that's not sailing in an unseamanlike manner, I don't know what is," Grael said.

There was no contact at the time and all the shouts of foul were met with green flags by the judges, meaning no rule had been broken. The Italians finally managed to jibe, but Cayard jibed to leeward of them and continued to hold them above course. Italian helmsman Francesco Di Angelis lost control of the big silver and red boat when the lee runner could not be released fast enough, blocking the boom from crossing the boat, and spinning LUNA ROSA into a broach. With the Italians dead in the water, Cayard set a jib and laid off for the leeward mark. By the time they got squared away, LUNA ROSSA was 39 seconds behind.

Buoyed by their big lead and playing the shifts well up the second weather leg, AMERICA ONE was able to stretch out to 51 seconds. Then LUNA ROSSA got cranked up again and began the long and successful "stern chase." They gained on the following run and beat, cutting the lead to 39 seconds starting the run to the finish.

LUNA ROSSA's exceptional speed on this leg set up the finish line drama. The penalty call that decided the match, came as the two boats crossed the line with AMERICA ONE half a length in the lead. When the judges assess a penalty, the burdened boat has to go through a 270 degree turn to exonerate itself, but the race ended as the penalty was called and there was no time for exoneration. Cayard went through the motions of completing the turn by sailing back around the Committee Boat end of the line and re-crossing. This made the official margin for the Italians two minutes and 32 seconds.

With the score standing at three wins for LUNA ROSSA and one for AMERICA ONE there will be no racing today, which is Anniversary Day in Auckland. The Louis Vuitton final series will resume on Tuesday.

Bruce Kirby is offline  
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