Tough conditions dominate the course in New Zealand.
Luna Rossa powers through the rough gulf waters.
With the wind piping up to 23 knots at times, never below 16 and with a punishing sea churning up the Hauraki Gulf, racing in the Louis Vuitton Cup semifinals was a battle of both skill and survival, but the favorites were able to win their matches. Italy beat France by a nose, America One
beat Japan's Asura
and Stars & Stripes
got the better of America True
. Her win put America One
into the finals with no need to sail any more races, and the Japanese joined America True
and Le Defi
with no chance making the finals.
With many of the mathematical scenarios now cleared up, the second spot in the finals is, as expected, between Luna Rossa and Stars & Stripes. America One could sit out tomorrow's race and give Stars & Stripes a free point and a tie with the Italians, but America One skipper Paul Cayard hinted broadly after today's race that he would sail.
"We are looking forward to another tough race tomorrow." Cayard said. " We came here to race. We feel that every time we do, we learn a lot. The decision is really about the weather. I would hate to come back with a stump instead of a mast." He said he would make the final call in the morning.
Cayard also said that his team did not care which of the other two boats
|Stars & Stripes leads America True.|
they would meet in the finals. "I think either Stars & Stripes
or Luna Rossa
will be very hard to beat. Each has its own strengths and weaknesses."
In light to medium winds Luna Rossa
has consistently looked faster than any other boat in the series, including America One
, although she failed to cross the finish line ahead of the Cayard team in either of their two semifinal matches. Cayard also realizes that Stars & Stripes
is very fast when the wind is above 12 knots, and that the experience and skill of the Stars & Stripes
crew make her a potential threat in any weather.Luna Rossa
now has six points and Stars & Stripes
has five. If America One
beats Stars & Stripes
tomorrow and the Italians beat Japan, it will be all over for Stars & Stripes
. If both Stars & Stripes
and Luna Rossa
win their matches tomorrow, they will each gain a point and the spread will remain the same. To stay in contention, Stars & Stripes
would then have to beat America True
in their makeup race the next day to pull even with the Italians and force a sudden death race-off for the second spot in the finals. But if Luna Rossa
should lose to Japan tomorrow and Stars & Stripes
win againt America One
, they would be even and a victory by Stars & Stripes
the next day against America True
, would put her into the finals. The race with America True
was made necessary when Stars & Stripes
was damaged in the third race and her scheduled match against America True
|Japan's Asura drives into the steep seas.|
Two of today's races were surprisingly close. France's Le Defi
used her exceptional downwind speed and a foredeck snarl on LUNA ROSSA, to give the Italians a moment of terror. More than half a minute behind at the last weather mark, the French boat surged up in the final minutes to gain an overlap on Luna Rossa
, only to lose it and the race on the final jibe. With the boats surfing on the steep Hauraki Gulf waves, Bertrand Pace lost control of Le Defi
for an instant and the spinnaker got twisted. She dropped back and Luna Rossa
crossed the line with a nine second lead.
At the post race press conference Luc Gellusseau, tactician on Le Defi
, was asked whether the French boat broached near the finish on purpose in order to let Luna Rossa
win the race. He said, "We were surprised this morning to receive 16 Ferraris in front of our compound." During the laughter that followed, Luna Rossa
skipper Francesco de Angelis said, "He was not supposed to say that!" In fact, ever since Le Defi
changed to a much smaller rudder back in December in an effort to gain more speed in moderate airs, the boat has been difficult to control in strong winds and big seas.Luna Rossa
had to change its mainsail before today's race when battens were broken and the sail ripped. They had another problem at the end of the first downwind leg while leading by a very narrow margin. As the jib was hoisted, it got twisted and the snarl resulted in a late spinnaker drop, so that when Luna Rossa
came onto the wind the chute was only half down and was plastered against the rigging, slowing the boat to a near standstill. Le Defi
took the lead, but did not hold it for long as they had problems of their own. A batten broke, reducing the efficiency of the mainsail, and a broken jib halyard cost them more time. They were 33 seconds behind at the final weather mark.
gave Paul Cayard's America One
a stiff battle before losing by 19 seconds. At the helm of the Japanese boat Peter Gilmour was able to start far enough to windward of Cayard to hold his position and sail all the way to the port tack lay line. America One
tried to squeeze up under Asura
, but the Japanese were moving every bit as well in the rough conditions and after tacking onto port they led their American rival into the weather mark with a seven second lead. Asura
bore off on port tack and hoisted her spinnaker, while America One
jibed as she set the chute and sailed off to the right side of the course on starboard tack. Then Cayard jibed back and the boats closed half way down the leg. The rest of the leg was a jibing contest as they sailed overlapped much of the time and jockeyed for the inside position for the bottom turn. With 200 yards to go Cayard gained a slight lead and jibed onto port across the bow of Asura
. Gilmour called it a foul, but the judges waved it off with their green "no foul" flag. America One
held her slim lead around the mark and Asura
was forced to tack off to the right. The left side of the course paid with a small wind shift, and minutes later America One
was able to cross Asura
to take the right side of the course. A wind shift back to the right gave the American boat another boost and she jumped into a lead which was not seriously threatened through the rest of the race. The winning margin was 17 seconds, and America One
was safely into the finals.
In the third race of the day Stars & Stripes
was able to win the start narrowly over America True
and work into a lead of 22 seconds at the first mark. Although America True
showed her usual downwind speed, she was never able to close enough to threaten her San Diego rival, and Stars & Stripes
went on to win by 46 seconds. She might have been able to win by more, but in the strong winds and punishing seas, the tendency was to not drive the boat too hard when safely ahead.
Tomorrow's races pit Stars & Stripes
against America One
against Luna Rossa
and America True
against Le Defi
. As America True
and Le Defi
are out of contention, they may choose not to race.