Tough conditions dominate the course in New Zealand.
Luna Rossa powers through the rough gulf waters.
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.|
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 was postponed.
|Japan's Asura drives into the steep seas.|
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.
Japan's Asura 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, Asura 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.
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