Work in Sports
AmericaOne penalty gives Prada 3-1 series lead
Posted: Sunday January 30, 2000 09:19 PM
AUCKLAND, New Zealand (AP) -- Seconds away from tying the America's Cup challenger finals, AmericaOne suffered a stunning defeat.
A penalty for blocking Prada as it charged from behind cost skipper Paul Cayard the race Sunday even though he crossed the finish line less than a boat length ahead of the Italian yacht.
Then AmericaOne had to make a 270-degree penalty turn, a severe blow to a crew which had come back from serious boat damage that forced it to withdraw from Saturday's third race. It led all the way Sunday until the penalty turn.
"I don't understand it," Cayard said of the penalty.
Prada tactician Torben Grael did.
"He was trying to sail below and squeeze us to the mark and we just stayed on course," Grael said.
Prada won by 2 minutes, 32 seconds and took a 3-1 lead in the best-of-9 series to determine a challenger to defending champion New Zealand in the best-of-9 America's Cup finals starting Feb. 19. Race 5 is scheduled for Tuesday.
AmericaOne led by 41 seconds going into the final 3 1/4-mile leg of the six-leg, 18 1/2-mile race in varying conditions -- strong winds approaching 25 knots, sunny skies, and a brief downpour that limited visibility.
Then Prada skipper Francesco de Angelis started closing in as he positioned his boat behind Cayard's to block the wind, coming from behind, from Cayard's sails.
With the finish line about 60 seconds away, Prada, sailing on the left, headed toward AmericaOne, which was coming at an angle from the right. Their spinnakers, sails at the front of the boat used on downwind legs, seemed to touch, and the Italians immediately raised a protest flag.
Cayard made a poor gybe and the boats separated as both sailed straight ahead toward the finish line. AmericaOne's bow crossed first, but the umpires in a nearby boat upheld Prada's protest, ruling that AmericaOne had failed to stay clear.
The American boat, plagued by equipment problems Saturday, was done in by human error Sunday.
"We did a much better job today and were looking good for a while," Cayard said.
For most of the race, it appeared Cayard's sailing skill would overcome the latest mishap -- its eighth lost spinnaker in 44 races throughout the trials and second in two days.
A cool Cayard sailed an aggressive and masterful second leg after the lime-green sail broke loose from its pole.
Cayard won Race 2 despite having a spinnaker rip across the bottom. The spinnaker damage in Race 3 on Saturday was more costly as the sail snapped in two horizontally on the fourth leg.
The boat's rigging also suffered substantial damage in the strong winds and high waves and Cayard, fearing his mast would break, withdrew on the fifth leg. For Sunday's race, he had substituted the mast from his backup boat.
"Yesterday [Saturday] we just had a lot of things go against us," Cayard said. "We hadn't raced in 30 knots before. The Italians had' because they had been in New Zealand longer than AmericaOne.
The winds were strong again, although not reaching the 30 knots of Saturday. Cayard led by four seconds at the start and eight seconds after the first leg, going into the wind.
Then the Hauraki Gulf turned into the scene of furious combat as both boats had sail problems and raised protest flags that were disallowed by the umpires.
About halfway up the three-mile downwind run, AmericaOne's spinnaker came loose and remained attached only at the top.
A luffing duel ensued in which the leading boat maneuvers in attempt to keep its opponent's sail from filling properly. It worked for Cayard as he tacked several times and stretched his lead even though he had no spinnaker.
"They were very lucky that their spinnaker broke again," Grael said, "because then it was easier for them to luff."
AmericaOne gained 31 seconds on the leg and as the crisis passed, Cayard took a deep breath and a drink from a water bottle. The heavy rain returned on the third leg, and AmericaOne increased its lead to 54 seconds at the midpoint. Prada started chipping away, trailing by 47 seconds and 41 seconds after the next two legs.