Since New Zealand won the America's Cup in 1995, any challenger planning to take the cup away has been warned that the strong and gusty winds of the Hauraki Gulf would play a major part in the quest. Today those winds, rising at times above 30 knots, took their toll in the semifinals of the Louis Vuitton Cup , costing America One a victory and effecting both of the other contests.
For minutes at a time the southwest wind churned up whitecaps and whistled through the rigging of the 80-foot America's Cup sloops, but then it would drop off several knots and shift in direction before swirling back in again. However, the waves were not as damaging today as they had been in early heavy air races because the wind was offshore and there was very little fetch for the seas to build up.
The only boat with no equipment problems scored her second victory in two races and now stands alone as the one unbeaten boat. Stars & Stripes sailed to a clean win over Italy's Luna Rosa, which suffered damage to her boom vang that may not have affected the outcome of the race, but occupied some of the crew on and off through the contest. Crewman Cristian Grigio was slightly injured by the jagged fracture in the vang's carbon fiber sleeve. The boom vang attaches to the boom aft of the mast and helps control the shape of the mainsail. It is particularly critical for downwind speed.
Stars & Stripes , managed by Dennis Conner and steered by Ken Read, grabbed a big lead early on the first leg by starting to leeward of Luna Rosa and sailing fast and high to force the Italians off to the right. Read then tacked into a big left hand lift that catapulted the Californians into the lead. Although Luna Rosa gained on the first downwind leg, from there on it was all Stars & Stripes , with the big blue boat pulling away on every leg to win by one minute and six seconds.
In the demolition contest between the two San Francisco boats, Paul Cayard's America One held a commanding lead at the end of the final run after America True had ripped its spinnaker, caught it under the boat and broke the spinnaker pole. But as she rounded the downwind mark for the final beat to windward America One's jib halyard snapped and the sail came out of the headsail foil, damaging the track in the process. Despite tremendous effort on the part of the crew they were unable to hoist a jib and had to watch as Dawn Riley's America True sailed by for an easy win.
Before the carnage took its toll, America One, from St. Francis Yacht Club had worked out a clear lead over her rival from the other side of San Francisco Bay. Cayard led by 35 seconds at the first mark, but then had a poor spinnaker set followed by a sloppy jibe and America True was back in the contest, trailing by only 15 seconds starting the second weather leg. Again Cayard pulled away upwind, and when his opponent had its spinnaker fiasco on the second run, it seemed like an easy win for America One until the jib halyard and luff foil gave way at the start of the final beat. Meanwhile aboard America True a quick repair was made to the carbon fiber spinnaker pole so they were able to use the chute on the final leg to protect their lead.
In the third race of the day, the Japanese Asura took advantage of a contentious call by the umpires in the pre-start maneuvering, grabbed the start by 11 seconds and went on to beat France's Le Defi. The Japanese had entered the port tack end of the starting box a bit late and had to dodge the starboard tack Le Defi. The French called it a foul, but the judges waved it off and the race was on.
After winning the start, the Japanese boat, with Peter Gilmour at the helm, showed good speed and excellent tactical ability in picking its way through the wind shifts up the left side of the course.. At the first mark they led by 150 yards. With the French showing better downwind speed, Asura was nevertheless able to maintain a clear lead until her jib halyard parted as she approached the weather mark for the second time. The French gained to within 50 yards and then turned on the jets on the downwind leg. From there on it was a close race, with Gilmour barely able to hold the French boat off on the final beat and the run to the finish. The winning margin was 38 seconds.
Le Defi's loss was her second in two races and the French now are the only team with two losses. Stars & Stripes has two wins and the other four each have a win and a loss.
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