Racing in the semifinals for the Louis Vuitton Cup was abandoned today as strong winds churned the Hauraki Gulf into a sea of white water. The near gale gusted above 30 knots, again serving notice that this America's Cup elimination series is sailed at the whim of the boisterous New Zealand weather. The committee first postponed racing in the hope that the breeze would ease off, but finally abandoned for the day just before 3 p.m. All three matches are to be sailed tomorrow, weather permitting.
With the stiff southwesterly blasting across the gulf, first Japan's Asura and San Francisco Yacht Club's America True invoked Rule 14.4(d), which allows postponement of a race upon agreement between the two competitors and the race committee. It was the first time in the Louis Vuitton series, which began October 18, that the rule had been put to use. Later France's Le Defi and Stars & Stripes also opted to call it a day.
The St. Francis Yacht Club's America One and Italy's Luna Rossa continued to hang out in the race area at the ends of their tow lines, hoping to get the opportunity to meet in what should have been the race of the day. They headed for home only when the committee abandoned all competition until tomorrow. This pair entered the semifinals as the favorites to finish first and second and meet in the finals to decide which one would challenge New Zealand for the America's Cup.
But the strong surge by Dennis Conner's Stars & Stripes , which won its first two races, one of them against the Italians, and the loss by America One due to a breakdown yesterday, put them both in a 1-1 position. So when they clash one of them will fall into negative territory with a 1-2 record. In the semifinals each boat meets each other boat only twice, so falling behind at this point would be an unexpected blow to either one of these well-financed and highly-touted two-boat teams.
As well as beating the Italians, Stars & Stripes opened the series with a win over the strong Japanese team, led by Australian Peter Gilmour, the current world match race champion. These victories by Team Dennis Conner, which is a one-boat campaign, have been won with impeccable tactics and excellent upwind speed. In both matches the San Diego boat has jumped out early by getting to that crucial first major wind shift and has then protected its lead throughout the afternoon with classic match race strategy.
Few had given the one-boat challenge of Dennis Conner a chance of getting to the Louis Vuitton finals after her mediocre record in the earlier rounds; but now that seems to be a distinct possibility. Conner has not been sailing on the boat, having turned the helmsman's duties over to Ken Read, of Newport, R.I. Conner's long-time crewmate and associate, Tom Whidden, replaced the America's Cup veteran in the cockpit and is acting as overall crew boss. Peter Isler, who sailed with Conner in his 1987 and 88 Cup victories, is the navigator. As well as watching the action closely, Conner keeps the financial wheels greased and acts as inspirational leader of the team. After the victory over Luna Rossa yesterday Conner said, "This is our 8th America's Cup and we know that things have to be taken day by day...... there is still a lot of racing ahead of us."
Results of the earlier rounds indicated that Conner's boat was at its best in stronger winds, and that is what the Hauraki Gulf has served up in the opening two races of the semifinals. If the breeze eases off to the more usual moderate airs of the New Zealand summer, there could be dramatic changes to the score card. The French in particular have shown excellent light air speed, and the new America One , USA 61, is thought to be a moderate air flyer.
In the strong winds that have prevailed so far, France is the only team to have lost both its races, while Japan, the two San Francisco boats, and the Italians have a win and a loss each. As well as the Luna Rossa - America One match, when racing resumes Stars & Stripes will sail against the French, and America True will come up against Japan's Asura .