The tension couldn't have been much higher or the wind much lower today as the contenders headed out to the starting area for opening race of America's Cup 2000. After a delay of nearly two hours, and with no sign of the wind increasing, the race committee postponed the contest until tomorrow. It was a huge disappointment for spectators on the 2,400 boats that crowded the race area, and for New Zealand's population of 3.5 million, more than half of whom were glued to their TV sets in anticipation of the opening encounter.
It has been nearly five years since their team brought the old cup to Auckland after beating the American defenders five straight in San Diego, and the tension has been building ever since. The drama of the day was heightened by the tremendous influx of Italians who have been streaming into New Zealand since their Luna Rossa won the right to challenge by squeezing out a win over America One five races to four.
The forecast for Sunday is for conditions similar to today's, so there is a possibility that the first race will not be held until Tuesday, as Monday has been scheduled as a day off regardless of whether any races are held on the week end. The unusually serene weather pattern is expected to move through by Tuesday and more wind, perhaps a lot more, may be expected during the week.
With the cancellation of today's race, Team New Zealand may have received the first bit of good luck of the series. They would like to race against Italy's Luna Rossa in winds above 12 knots and would feel even more comfortable if it blew more than 15. If Sunday's race has to be cancelled and strong winds move in for Tuesday's match, the home team will have the conditions they feel best suits their boat and sailing style. Few would deny that New Zealanders are the best heavy air sailors in the world. Although they have trained long and hard to master the lighter conditions which can prevail for brief periods this time of year, they would prefer the rough and tumble of a contest in the strong south west winds for which the Hauraki Gulf is famous.
With the possibility of light airs for the opening day, Race Committee Chairman Harold Bennett had said at yesterday's press conference, " We know that if you've got six knots of breeze, or even seven, it's hard to make the top mark in the time limit. If I feel it's stable and we've got a good breeze, we'd obviously want to get moving." On the Hauraki Gulf, light winds nearly always mean very shifty winds.
So the tension remains high along the Auckland waterfront and all the questions go unanswered. The contestants still know very little about each other. They think they know what kind of weather will give them an edge, but they're not really sure. It will take more than one race to find out. Perhaps Kiwi skipper Russell Coutts put it best yesterday when he said "the winner will be the team that makes the most of its chances."
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