If the America's Cup had a middle name it would be Controversy, or maybe Contention. On the water today Luna Rossa and Stars & Stripes won, to keep their hopes of reaching the finals of the Louis Vuitton Cup alive. However, action in the protest room may once again have more to do with the outcome than the speed of the boats or the skill of their crews.
Having each picked up a point for their victories, Stars & Stripes and Luna Rossa remain one point apart, with the Italian boat leading. Tomorrow Stars & Stripes is scheduled to sail against America True in a race that was postponed earlier when Stars & Stripes was being repaired after a collision. When the two California boats match up, Stars & Stripes will be fighting to win the one point that will put them into a tie with the Italians and force a sudden death sail-off for the second spot in the finals. Paul Cayard's America One has already made it to the finals.
As the boats finished their races on the Hauraki Gulf, the Italian legal team was preparing two briefs against Stars & Stripes. One is a protest to the International Jury claiming the San Diego boat has been using a mainsail designed by the sail design team from the New York Yacht Club's Young America, eliminated from he series before the semi finals. The Italians say this contravenes Articles 13, 15 and 17 of The America's Cup Protocol.
The second is a brief to go to The America's Cup Arbitration Panel tomorrow claiming that Stars & Stripes would not be a fit challenger to race against the defending New Zealanders. The brief points out that unless the team that challenges the defenders shall declare in writing that "it has until that time and will beyond that time comply with the Terms and conditions, this Protocol, the Deed of Gift, the Interpretive Resolutions and the decisions of the America's Cup Arbitration Panel, the winning challenger shall not be eligible and shall not be accepted by RNZYS (Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron) as the challenger under the Deed,"
This protest refers to the fact that Stars & Stripes has already been found guilty of violating Article 19 of the Protocol for using an illegal rudder and has been penalized one point for the violation. In announcing the intention to lodge the brief, Laurent Esquier, Italian operations manager, said "In our opinion there was a violation of the Protocol. The jury has already dealt with the rudder situation, so I'm pretty sure they have a good idea how to expedite such a case."
The document says the mainsail in question "is the product of the intellectual creativity and judgement of the Young America design program."Stars & Stripes operations manager and crew member Bill Trenkle described the Italian action as "desperate measures by desperate people".
The matter could be put to rest out on the water if Dawn Riley and her team aboard America True could beat Stars & Stripes in the one remaining match. They lost to Team Dennis Conner yesterday, but they have beaten them before and could do it again if the wind is light to medium. Riley said today that she and her team will be out there trying hard to win because, "There is this thing called the wooden spoon for last place and we don't want it." If they win Against Stars & Stripes they will beat France's Le Defi in the semi final series.
Paul Cayard, skipper and spokesman for America One, lost his race with Stars & Stripes today and immediately came under a barrage of questions from the press, who wanted to know if he intentionally lost to Team Dennis Conner to help them beat Luna Rossa for the second spot in the finals.
What possible reason, or reasons could Cayard have to throw the race? Did he want to come up against Stars & Stripes in the finals because he thought she would be easier to beat than Luna Rossa? Could Cayard and his backers be looking at the bigger picture, like making certain the America's Cup goes back to the United States? Then sponsors would be satisfied and the next Cup match would be back home, where sponsorship money and individual support would be easier to come by.
Many of those who know Cayard best say that there is no way he would intentionally throw a race and strangely enough it was Italian skipper Francesco de Angelis who tried to end the discussion when he said "I think this topic has been stressed enough already. What we were thinking today was to just go out and beat Nippon. That was our focus and we had no time to think of anything else."
The situation in the media center became quite emotional when Cayard's wife Icka, who had sailed aboard America One today as the non-participating 17th crew person, defended her husband's integrity. "I know he didn't throw the race" she said, "I was there. He was going to win the race for me and he couldn't do it."
On the race course today helmsman Ken Read put Stars & Stripes into the lead off the starting line by getting away ahead and to windward of America One. With wind up in the 14-knot range, where Stars & Stripes begins to come alive, Read and his very experienced crew picked their way through the wind shifts and were able to work out a comfortable lead at the first weather mark. Then they put more time on their St. Francis Yacht Club rival on the run and rounded the bottom mark with a lead of 44 seconds.
With the wind dropping, Cayard and crew began to gain and on the run to the finish America One, jibing more smoothly and accelerating better, got to within two lengths of the San Diego boat. When America One jibed for the last time, Read let her go and aimed his big blue sloop for the finish line, crossing with a lead of 22 seconds.
Luna Rossa's win over Japan's Asura was a do or die fight for the Italians. If they lost and Stars & Stripes won, their American rival could get into the finals by defeating America True in tomorrow's make up race. The Italians were well to weather of Asura at the start and worked out a lead of 22 seconds by the weather mark. Japan held them to this slim edge on the run, but then lost ground on the second weather leg. Well behind, the Japanese boat suffered a halyard failure and sailed the second run without a mainsail. The winning margin for Luna Rossa was two minutes.
In the race that didn't matter, France's Le Defi beat America True by 1:14. It was a see - saw battle most of the way between boats already eliminated from contention. The lead changed hands twice. In the end Le Defi, which had broken its spinnaker pole in a broach similar to the one she had in yesterday's race, was able to pass America True on the run to the finish by tacking her asymmetrical spinnaker to the stem of the boat. With the wind dropping all the time, the French boat's narrow hull came into its own and helped by a botched spinnaker jibe by her opponent, sailed into the lead and won by more than a minute.