America's Cup—Another Postponement - SailNet Community
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America's Cup—Another Postponement

For the fourth time America's Cup 2000 racing was cancelled today as the big high pressure dome that has been hanging over the New Zealand prevented the wind from rising above a whisper. However a haze moved in during the afternoon, indicating a change in the weather and by agreement between the New Zealand and Italian teams, it was decided they will race both Wednesday and Thursday, instead of only Thursday, as planned.

The weather forecast is for winds building throughout the day Wednesday, with velocities in the 12 to 18 knot range during the race, and continuing to increase to 30 knots by late Thursday.

It could be a very boisterous couple of days on the Hauraki Gulf and may well produce the type of knock down, drag out racing that many had feared might not—after all the Kiwi propaganda—be seen in this 30th sailing of the America's Cup. Team New Zealand now leads three races to none and needs only two more wins in the best-of-nine series to clinch the Cup. The Italians would have to win five of the next six to take the trophy to the Mediterranean.

While the boats and crews wait for their next encounter, the pressure is on the Italian team to stop the momentum of the New Zealanders, who could well be headed for a five to zero sweep, a feat they accomplished in 1995. That year they shut out Dennis Conner and his crew off San Diego and brought the oldest trophy in sport to their island home in the South Pacific.

This nation of only 3.5 million people is noted for its strong winds, and its heavy air sailors, but so far the powerful black defender with its all-star crew has yet to meet Italy's Luna Rossa in anything above 15 knots. Before the match began Doug Peterson of the Italian design team said he thought the silver and red challenger would be a match for Team New Zealand when going to windward in heavy air, but might give something up downwind due to being a bit shorter on the waterline than the defender.

That was before Team New Zealand had knocked off the first three races in conditions that had been thought more favorable to the Italians. There has been talk, not confirmed by the Italian camp, that their boat was altered shortly before the Cup match began to improve her performance in heavy winds so she would be a better match for the Kiwis in those conditions. It remains to be seen if Luna Rossa sacrificed some medium air speed for better heavy wind performance. The superiority of the New Zealand boat when the wind has been in the 14 to 15 knot range indicates that she will be even more likely to win as the wind rises.

However, strong winds can introduce fresh elements into a yacht race. The chance of broken gear, ripped sails, and injuries to crewmembers increases greatly as the wind rises and the strains on the big sloops build. In the long Louis Vuitton elimination series that resulted in Luna Rossa becoming the official challenger, the New York Yacht Club entry broke nearly in two in 27 knots of wind, two boats broke masts and there were dozens of sails ripped, most of them spinnakers. It can be difficult to control these big, light, over-canvassed boats in rough conditions, and several times during the trials, boats spun out of control as crews struggled to jibe the huge masthead spinnakers.

The America's Cup class yachts are long, narrow and light, with 40,000-pound ballast bulbs 13 feet below the water at the end of their narrow stainless steel fin keels. Their huge sail plans are supported by carbon fiber rigs towering 105 feet above the deck. In an effort to have a straight forestay for good control of jib shape they put up to 30,000 pounds of load on the headstay, cranking the running backstays up to as high as 24,000 pounds. Downward compression at the mast step approaches 100,000 pounds in heavy winds.

The New Zealanders began a trend towards stiffer masts and more highly stressed rigs during their triumphant '95 season and this year boats from other nations arrived in Auckland with even greater rigidity throughout hulls and rigs. Spars on most of the challengers were up to 40 percent stiffer than they were five years ago. With their new, highly sophisticated "millennium rig," the New Zealanders appear to have taken a leap forward that has kept them ahead in the technology race. Because the boats this year are narrower on deck than most of the boats were five year ago, the staying bases are narrower and the spreaders are shorter so the jibs can be sheeted harder. Both of these features increase compression on the mast and therefore throughout the boat.

Flatter headsails, designed for the frequent strong winds and flat water produced by the prevailing westerlies, are allowing sheeting angles as low as seven degrees, so tacking angles are down close to 60 degrees, instead of the 65 to 70 that were more common in San Diego. To reduce stretch, the sails have a high carbon fiber content.

The combination of all these features produces a boat with very little give anywhere, so winds of more than 25 knots produce enormous strains on the entire structure. If the Hauraki Gulf can shake off its doldrums and serve up the conditions for which it is notorious, and for which the boats have been designed, it may truly be make or break in the next few days.

Because the race on Wednesday had not been scheduled, the TV coverage for the United States will not be live. The race can be seen at midnight Tuesday EST, which is 9:00 p.m. Tuesday on the West Coast.

Bruce Kirby is offline  
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