The race answered little about the speed of the two boats. America³ had been faster on four of the eight legs, Il Moro on the other four. It was Race 2, on May 10—ironically, the only race Il Moro would win—that clearly showed that America³ had superior speed at almost every point of sail. Cayard pulled out all the stops on that historic day, which marked the first win in an America's Cup final by an Italian boat and the first by a European entry since 1934.
Heading up the first leg, Il Moro took a boat-length lead, which she stretched to 33 seconds at the mark. At that point Cayard summarily slam-dunked A³ when Melges ill-advisedly tried to power through Il Moro's dirty air. On the downwind run the U.S. boat gained back nearly all the time she had lost, only to be stopped dead in the water when Cayard suddenly turned Il Moro into A³'s path while Il Moro had the right-of-way. Score another one for Cayard.
Finally, on the eighth leg, which was also downwind, a fast-closing A³, having made up half a minute, butchered her last jibe a few yards from the finish, just as she was about to overtake the Italian boat. Il Moro's spinnaker broke the line only three seconds ahead of America³. It was, by 23 seconds, the closest race in America's Cup history.
The psychological maneuvering after that race came swiftly and without restraint. It was now certain that A³ was faster than Il Moro both upwind and downwind, and every bit as maneuverable. But the series was tied 1-1. "In this America's Cup, when A³ loses, the crew has screwed up," said Jerry Milgram, an MIT professor in ocean engineering and head of the America³ syndicate's design team. "We have speed on them in every range from six to 14 knots."
"Dennis Conner and his team would be very, very dangerous with that boat," said Cayard, implying none too subtly that Koch & Co. were babes in the Pacific by comparison. "I'd like to be faster, but we can win the way things are. They made a lot of mistakes."
Koch concurred, vowing that he and his team would practice jibing the next day until they got it right. He also stroked Cayard, calling him "perhaps the second-best sailor in the world." The best? Conner. When asked where that left his veteran skipper, Melges, a three-time Yachtsman of the Year and 1972 Olympic gold medalist, Koch said, "He's good enough to steer this boat and good enough to win the America's Cup."
The Cuben crew was in an unenviable position. As Milgram pointed out, whenever America³ won a race, the victory belonged to the boat and the designers. A loss was the fault of the crew and the afterguard. On the other hand, as Dellenbaugh pointed out, "the speed of the boats wasn't so radically different that you could afford to be behind at the first crossing."
Not that we'll ever really know, because thanks to Dellenbaugh, the Cubens were never behind at the first crossing after the second race. Dubbed Ralph Malph by the Italian press because of his resemblance to a character in the television show Happy Days, the softspoken Dellenbaugh out-dueled the mighty Cayard in every start in Races 3, 4 and 5. Each time, the 38-year-old Dellenbaugh put America³ on the favored side of the course, enabling her to take the early lead. Each time, she kept it, winning by margins of 1:58, 1:04 and, in last Saturday's clincher, 44 seconds. The fact is, in the five races of this America's Cup final, the lead never changed hands. The winner of the start was the winner of the race. Game over.
But there were moments of high drama and comedy out there on the Pacific, like during the prestart of Race 3, on May 12, when Koch was again brained by the boom. "Good luck, guys," he said. "I got hit."
The Cubens finally won a race without Koch's getting bonked, on Thursday, when they went ahead 3-1. But even then a potentially disastrous situation was narrowly averted. A³ was holding a 34-second advantage as she rounded the sixth mark when—in what is every crewman's nightmare—grinder Pete Fennelly got his right ankle tangled in the jib sheet. As the jib filled with wind and his fellow grinders began trimming the sail, the sheet tightened like a noose around Fennelly's ankle and dragged him across the deck. Three scenarios flashed through Fennelly's mind: 1) He would be dragged overboard and drowned; 2) he would be dragged overboard and saved, but A³ would lose the race and he would wish that he had drowned; and 3) the grinders would grind his foot back into the winch. "I was bumming out," said the 28-year-old Fennelly, a former University of Rhode Island football player.