America One and Luna Rossa, the pre-series favorites, have overcome early setbacks to rise to the top in the six-boat semi finals for the Louis Vuitton Cup, while Stars & Stripes has had one point stripped from her score for violating the rules by using an illegal rudder.
With her win today over France's Le Defi in winds of eight to 11 knots, America One has five wins to the one loss she suffered when the jib ripped out of the headfoil in Race Three while she was well ahead of America True. Luna Rossa downed America True handily today and stands at 4-2. She lost the heavy air second race to Stars & Stripes and then broke her mast early in the next race when racing bow to bow with America One.
Dennis Conner's Stars & Stripes stands at 3-2 and has a make-up race to sail against America True at the end of the series. She would have been tied with the Italians at 4-2 if she had not been penalized in he rudder dispute.
The International Arbitration Panel, which was set up to hear disputes involving the America's Cup Protocol between the Challengers and the defending New Zealanders, yesterday decided that Team Dennis Conner had indeed breached the "country of origin" rule by using a rudder in the first race of the semi finals that was not built either in the U.S.A. or New Zealand. This conclusion was reached after the Panel had heard submissions from nine lawyers. The Panel declined to rule on whether the International Jury had jurisdiction to decide on a penalty. The Jury declared that it did have jurisdiction, and was supported unanimously by representatives of all six challengers and by Team New Zealand
The rules state that a boat and its appendages must be designed and built in the country of origin, except that, after the boat has been shipped to New Zealand, the appendages (keel, rudder, wings, etc.) may be built in New Zealand if designed by nationals of the team involved. The rudder in question was designed by the Stars & Stripes design team, but was constructed by McConaghy Boats in Australia.
Representing Team Dennis Conner at the hearings, tactician Tom Whidden admitted that they had made an error. "We screwed up," he said, throwing his team to the mercy of the Jury. Whidden said they had decided after racing the early rounds that Stars & Stripes should have a smaller rudder, and that no New Zealand builder had time to make it, so they turned to the Australian firm.
All the team representatives were invited to make submissions on the form the penalty should take. The Japanese, who had been beaten by Stars & Stripes in the race where the rudder was used, wanted the American boat disqualified and the victory point to go to Japan. They also wanted to open a hearing against Team Dennis Conner for "gross misconduct" under racing rule No. 69. The Italians noted that abiding by the country of origin rule was sometimes quite expensive and voted for a penalty that went beyond the loss of one point.
When the point was stripped from Stars & Stripes but not given to Japan's Asura, the Japanese announced that they will seek to reopen the hearing.
While the hearing proceeded ashore, Stars & Stripes was busy on the race course once more beating the Japanese. In the semi finals each boat races each other boat twice, and today marked the beginning of the second round. It was a very close match, with Stars & Stripes protesting Asura three times during the starting maneuvers. All three were disallowed by the on-water judges, but Ken Read, at the helm of the American boat, was able to grab the favored left side and blasted across the starting line at full speed. Asura's Peter Gilmour had controlled the start for nearly five minutes, but with less than 30 seconds to go he started to jibe back from above the line and nearly ran into the committee boat's anchor line. Instead of jibing, Asura was forced to tack around, coming out of the turn slowly and starting slightly to weather, but behind her opponent. She tacked off to the right as soon as she was up to speed.
After the race Gilmour said, "We had Stars & Stripes effectively in irons and I lost sight of the race committee boat. It was a very, very simple error, but it shows you how the starts can go from looking good to just being a complete mess."
Stars & Stripes sailed into the expected left shift, tacked onto portmaking a jib change in the processand popped clearly into the lead. She was able to clear the Japanese on port tack with a half length lead on their first cross and was never headed for the rest of the contest. The Japanese pressed hard, making gains on the downwind legs and holding up surprisingly well to windward while being covered closely by the American boat. The winning margin of 10 seconds was a clear indication of the intensity of the match.
It was also a wind shift to the left that catapulted America One into the lead in her race against France's Le Defi. The St. Francis Yacht Club entry, with Paul Cayard at the helm, had forced Le Defi to tack onto port just before the start. Cayard then drove off for the left end of the line, while the French had to squeeze around the committee boat and got away well below top speed. Cayard tacked on the left shift and jumped into a lead that he stretched to more than a minute by the end of the race. Again the French were very fast on the downwind legs, but not spry enough to overcome the American boat's superb upwind performance.
In the third race of the day Italy's Luna Rossa and the San Francisco Yacht Club's America True mixed it up during the pre start, with protest flags flying and the judges ruling no fouls were committed. By the time the starting gun had fired, the action had tamed down and Luna Rossa got away with a slight edge. America True's helmsman John Cutler instituted a spirited tacking duel throughout the first leg, but the Italians were up to the challenge and managed to work out a lead of nearly 30 seconds.
America True showed her customary downwind speed, but was not able to close the gap significantly. The Italians continued to dominate the weather legs and pulled away to win by 1:17.
Scores: (Boats get one point for a win) America One - 5; Luna Rossa - 4; Stars & Stripes - 3 (with a make-up race to sail;) Asura - 2; America True - 1 (with a make-up race to sail;) Le Defi - .5 (Le Defi has won one race, but was penalized one half point for causing damage to Stars & Stripes in Race Three.)