The GBR Challenge for the America’s Cup more than fulfilled its modest ambitions for the America’s Cup Jubilee when both of its entries advanced from the fleet racing portion of the event into a four-boat match racing series.
But it took the International Jury to convene an on-the-water protest hearing before the final four were selected. The Jury gathered to hear a protest between the British entry, GBR-41, and Bill Koch's America3 at the conclusion of the fleet racing. Hanging in the balance was a spot in the semi-finals.
Across the Solent, strong tides and light winds continued to bedevil all competitors at Cowes today as racers spread out across a gray, gauzy, monochrome seascape, darkened occasionally by light rain showers and relieved by the odd ray of sunshine. The ACC protest concerned a pre-start incident when GBR-41, under pressure from Luna Rossa to leeward, tried to luff America3 to weather. There was contact between the two boats, and the Jury concluded that America3 should be disqualified for the final race, putting GBR-41 into the semi-finals.
For its first foray into the America's Cup in 14 years, having two of four boats in the semi-finals should make the rest of the world take note of the British Challenge. Sailing on their home waters, both of the GBR boats have consistently performed to potential, generally winning starts, and showing bursts of speed and finesse. However the first flight of the best of three semi-finals showed the team how much room is left for development.
Prada's Luna Rossa, the winner of the fleet racing regatta, and last year's Louis Vuitton Cup, earned the right to choose its opposition, and selected the fourth place finisher GBR-41. Although skipper Andy Beadsworth looked strong in the pre-start, and led off the line, GBR 41, a 1995 generation boat, couldn't keep pace with the Italian silver bullet and trailed at the finish.
In the other match-up, the GBR Challenge flagship, GBR-52 lined up against the 'Mighty-32', with Team New Zealand. The Kiwis sailed a near perfect record in NZL-32 in 1995, winning the America's Cup. GBR-52, Idaten, is a 2000-vintage boat, sailed by the Nippon Challenge to the Louis Vuitton Cup semi-finals. In generally light and shifty conditions, with a strong current churning up the Solent, Team New Zealand were first off the line, and the boats split tacks off the start. For the rest of the beat, GBR-52 rode superior speed to close the gap, and eventually was able to lee-bow the Kiwis as they neared the weather mark. The strong current came into play here, as Team New Zealand became entangled with the anchor rode. GBR-52 drew level in the ensuing confusion, and stretched away to a 1:30 lead at the bottom mark.
At the second weather mark, the situation was reversed, as the swirling currents pushed GBR Challenge helmsman Andy Green down onto the mark. The anchor line for the mark became badly entangled on the keel, and the crew eventually had to cut the line. By that time the slick New Zealand crew had sped off down the track, and finished the race over one minute to the good. "Obviously, it's a very disappointing result," said Andy Green. "The good news is that we have another chance tomorrow, and if we sail as we did today, we should get a better result. The guys were fantastic, and the crew work was flawless."
The end result is that the leaders tonight are the same teams that competed in the most recent America's Cup. Team New Zealand clearly has the tougher task, sailing a 1995-vintage boat. But Kiwi confidence is high, and NZL-32 has only lost one race on the water in Louis Vuitton and America's Cup competition. Friday is an opportunity for all three teams to further their programmes toward the America's Cup in 2003.
In the Grand Prix Class of the Prada International 12-Metre Championships the Swiss Kiwi Russell Coutts continued to dominate. Sailing in light winds and lackluster conditions, Coutts and his teammates from the Swiss Alinghi Challenge for the America's Cup racked up another first place aboard South Australia. A first place today gave South Australia a record of three firsts and a second for a total of five points.
The downunder rivals Australia II, sailed by John Bertrand and Kiwi Magic, skippered by Cameron Appleton, are tied for second place with 13 points after Australia II finished second today and Kiwi Magic finished fifth. In the Modern 12-Metre Class, the competition was close between the Olin Stephens-designed 12-Metres Intrepid and Freedom.
John Curtin's Intrepid, winner of the America's Cup in 1967 and 1970 won today, with Ernest Jacquet's Freedom, the 1980 America's Cup winner, in second place. Intrepid leads with five points to Freedom's six. In the Classic 12-Metre Class, Nyala owned by Patrizio Bertelli of the Prada Challenge, with Torben Grael steering, scored her second first place to remain tied with the old Fife Twelve Flica, steered by French Olympic gold medallist Thierry Pepponnet.
Racing with the J-Class yachts, 23-Metre Cambria owned and sailed by Australian John David scored her first victory this week on corrected time and is now just one place out of second place on points for the week. Dennis Kozlowski's Endeavour is first with five points while R. de Waal's Velsheda is second with 11 points. Cambria has 12 points and Shamrock, skippered by Tom Perry has 13. Cambria would be in second place if she had not withdrawn from racing in the blustery weather of the opening day at Cowes.
Designed and built in 1928 by Fife, in Scotland, the 114-foot long Cambria underwent a massive restoration project in the mid-90s after she was found lying idle in Townsville, Queensland. She was rerigged from a ketch to her original cutter sailplan before she was shipped to Cowes. "Last Sunday was the first time in 69 years that Cambria has ever been raced," said crewmember Rob Mundle. So, the girl is on the way back. Today was our worst start of the series but we got to the weather mark in touch with the others and split gybes with Shamrock on the run and watched her sail into oblivion. We can't sail to windward as well as the J-Class but we managed to hold Shamrock off on the beat home."