With losses today, America True and Le Defi dropped out of contention in the Louis Vuitton Cup semifinals; and a loss by Stars & Stripes dropped her farther behind the high flying Stars & Stripes and Luna Rossa, both of whom won again.
Meanwhile, the Japanese announced that they will not proceed with an appeal against the ruling yesterday that removed one point from the score of Team Dennis Conner's Stars & Stripes. Peter Gilmour, skipper and spokesman for Japan's Asura said earlier that the one point penalty was not enough and that they would petition the International Jury to re-open the hearing.
The penalty point and the loss today to Italy fixed Team Dennis Conner's points total at three, while their victories boosted America One and Luna Rossa to six and five respectively.
The two leaders come together in tomorrow's race and if the Italians win, they will be tied with six points apiece. If Stars & Stripes beats Le Defi, which is likely unless the wind is below 10 knots, the San Diego entry will be two points back. The points situation has raised the ugly possibility of boats throwing races against Stars & Stripes to boost her into a tie with one of the lead boats. After she races Le Defi tomorrow, Team Dennis Conner sails against America True, then America One and then America True again in a makeup race after the regular schedule is finished.
Although it's highly unlikely that either of the San Francisco boats would go out of their way to boost Conner's chances, having Stars & Stripes in the finals against Paul Cayard's America One, instead of the very fast Luna Rossa, would make it certain that an American boat would advance to race New Zealand for the America's Cup. Following the accusations of race throwing in Round Three and America True's decision not to race against France, thus propelling Le Defi into the semi finals over New York's Young America, the International Jury was asked for an opinion on the whole matter of manipulating races to suit a particular agenda.
The jury announced that there was no rule to prevent a team from throwing, or not participating in, a race. But the panel also warned that such actions must not be taken in collusion with other participants.
Stars & Stripes put itself into this vulnerable situation at the starting gun today when Ken Read made the horrific error of being over the line early, allowing Luna Rossa to start cleanly at the starboard end of the line and sail immediately into a huge right hand shift. It is highly unlikely that the American boat could have held off the Italians in the moderate wind of the first leg, but the botched start removed any chance of a close duel.
For the final minute before the start, the Italian boat controlled the situation by dogging Stars & Stripes from astern. Both boats wanted to get to the right where the big wind shift could be seen coming down the course. With both boats on starboard tack, Luna Rossa helmsman Francesco de Angelis was able to establish an overlap to windward of Stars & Stripes and prevent her from tacking. Realizing he was a few seconds early, Read luffed sharply and Luna Rossa tacked onto port and headed for the right end of the line. But the luff left Stars & Stripes virtually dead in the water with her bow 10 feet over the line. Read jibed around to re-cross the line and started on port a good 10 lengths in Luna Rossa's wake. The Italians led by just over a minute at the weather mark, and although the American boat was able to gain a bit on the runs, they lost ground on all the weather legs to finish 1:09 behind.
The first race of the day was a battle between the two San Francisco boats, America One and America True, and the big right hand wind shift was the key to the opening minutes of their match as well. America One was to leeward at 25 seconds to go with both boats on port tack. America One skipper Paul Cayard luffed hard and forced John Cutler to tack back towards the right end of the line or risk being over early. The St. Francis Yacht Club entry then hightailed it over to the right side of the course and sailed into the new wind pattern several minutes before America True picked it up. With a lead of more than a minute at the first mark America One was not threatened throughout the rest of the race and crossed the finish line with a lead of 1:16.
When Asura beat Le Defi today it was the fifth time the Japanese had defeated the French, and the loss put the French team beyond any mathematical chance of making it into the Louis Vuitton finals. Bertrand Pace, at the helm of Le Defi, made it as tough as possible for Peter Gilmour and his Japanese crew. He took control of the starting maneuvers with nearly three minutes to go and badgered Asura from astern, ultimately forcing the Japanese boat to tack away from the favored right end of he line a few seconds before the gun.
When they first came together up the course, Asura was on port tack, could not cross the French boat and tacked to leeward of her. For several minutes the pair drag raced on starboard tack with nothing to choose between them in either speed or pointing ability. But the wind began to increase and the more powerful Japanese sloop was able to slowly work its way up under Le Defi, finally forcing the French to tack off to the right. Asura made small gains on each tack during the rest of the leg and worked out a lead of 25 seconds at the rounding. Although a little more nimble than her opponent on the downwind legs, Le Defi was not able to work into a threatening position and trailed across the finish line by 52 seconds.