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Race Abandoned

For the second time in America's Cup 2000, a race had been postponed due to light and variable conditions. Although both teams agreed that the wind was too inconsistent at the scheduled 1:15 p.m. starting time today, the Italians felt that an hour later, with the wind up to eight knots and far more settled in direction, the Race Committee should have signaled a start.

The Italian challengers, whose Luna Rossa excelled in light winds throughout the exhaustive elimination trials, would like to see some races held in these conditions. The New Zealand boat has more wetted area and a bit less sail than Luna Rossa and is thought to be vulnerable in moderate air, although a good light weather test has yet to be held between the two. As the racing yachts and huge spectator fleet waited for action on the smooth Hauraki Gulf, Italian fans were shouting for the race to get underway and criticizing the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron race committee for not getting started.

At a press conference held after the teams had come ashore, Italy's weather adviser, Hamish Wilcox, said he thought a race could have been held. The big high pressure area hanging over New Zealand shows no sign of dissipating soon, and Wilcox said conditions will be very much the same on Saturday, when the next race is scheduled. Wilcox added, "If the breeze stabilizes as it did today, where we had quite a stable direction from about 2:30 p.m., we'll have to live with that speed because that's what we've got and that's enough for these boats to get going."

Chief Race Officer Harold Bennett said, "We sat and agonized over those conditions today. I must admit that at the bottom end of the course (near the starting area ) we had some breeze. I think it was probably acceptable, but when we went further up the course, all our indicators led me to believe we were not going to see conditions that would be fair."


The Italians, who came into the series with high hopes after showing superiority over 10 other challengers during the four months of racing for the Louis Vuitton Cup, are now down two races to none and will be looking for the win that will get them back on the high road. In both the races held so far, they have shown enough speed to win if they can stay out of trouble. When drag racing the Kiwi defenders, Luna Rossa has usually pointed a bit higher while sailing either the same speed or only slightly slower. In the second contest, the challengers were savaged before the start by the highly professional and aggressive New Zealanders; but within a few minutes they had overcome the 18 second starting deficit and had drawn virtually even.

That was when disaster struck in the form of debris caught on Luna Rossa's ballast bulb, 13 feet below the water. This was followed by injury to a crew member, who had to be taken off the boat and a continuing fire drill by the other Italians as they struggled to clear the keel and get back in the race. For the rest of the afternoon, they followed the home team around the course, gaining or losing as the wind moved across the Gulf in patches. They had pulled back nearly half a minute of the Kiwis' two minute lead on the final weather leg only to have a jib track break. This third bit of misfortune prevented them from tacking for several minutes and they were unable to take advantage of wind shifts that might have helped them cut further into the Kiwi lead.

It was not Luna Rossa's day, but the Italians have shown that they can be come back artists. When down 3-4 in the Louis Vuitton finals against America One they took two straight to win the right to challenge New Zealand for the big prize. Now, with no points on the board, they are determined to prove that their extensive research and design efforts and their three years of practice - two of them on the Hauraki Gulf - can lift them back into contention.

Meanwhile the International Jury announced that it is satisfied the on-board communication system being used by Team New Zealand does not break the rule against equipment intended to receive information from off the boat. The panel also gave its approval to the direct wire systems being used on both boats by crew members posted up the mast to look for changes in wind direction and strength.

The ruling, signed by Jury Chairman Brian Willis, said, "The Jury interprets Condition 19.1 to permit use of both systems." Part of the America's Cup Match Conditions, the rule says, "When racing, a yacht shall not carry on board any equipment capable of receiving communications or signals originating outside the yacht."

The New Zealanders had asked for the ruling on the communications system they revealed in the first race of the series on Sunday and the Jury visited the boat on Tuesday to assess the system. At that time they gave interim approval of the set-up. Later they considered submissions from both New Zealand and the Italian challengers before giving the final ruling.

The New Zealanders have microphones in front of the steering wheels connected to a radio amplifier which picks up the signal and feeds it to ear pieces similar to those used by the hearing impaired. These devices are worn by crewmembers working on the foredeck so they can hear orders coming from the afterguard. There is a communication problem on the boats due to sounds coming from off the boats, in particular the ruckus made by press and TV helicopters hovering near the starting line.

In making the final ruling the Jury said, " The equipment being used by crew members on New Zealand, and indeed Luna Rossa, are capable of receiving signals generated outside the yacht. However, the Jury is satisfied that neither system is being used to receive signals or communications from outside the yacht and that it is impractical for the systems to be used in this manner."

Bruce Kirby is offline  
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