At times, the rain across the course was so dense, the yachts resembled grey ghosts in the gloom, barely visible sliding across the Hauraki Gulf. As the rain squalls marched across the course, the crews had to cope with huge windshifts.
Racing began with the wind at 240 degrees. It went as far right as 280 degrees and as far left as 200 degrees.
For much of the racing, it looked as if the results would be a foregone conclusion. Alinghi, skippered by Russell Coutts, and USA-76, skippered by Chris Dickson, both wanted the right hand side of the start. Helmsman Peter Holmberg gained the favoured side, but Alinghi soon gained the upper hand and then once again sailed a classic match race, covering closely and never allowing the American crew any opportunities to gain.
Every move on USA-76 was matched with a counter-punch from the Swiss team, including the use of staysails on the final downwind leg.
In the OneWorld versus Prada match, the start was hardly contested as OneWorld chose the right and Prada favoured the left. OneWorld very quickly established control and led around the course until the final beat. OneWorld favoured the right side and split away, leaving Prada to go left. As a separation of 1000m opened between the yachts, the wind went left, Prada gained and swept into the lead.
Once in front, Prada covered closely and held on to take their first victory gun of the semi-finals.
LUNA ROSSA (ITA-74) BEAT ONEWORLD (USA-67) - DELTA 00:20
OneWorld and Luna Rossa share semi-finals by 1-1"
In an amazing turn around of fortunes, Prada gained from a big left hand wind shift and stole into the lead on the final beat, after the American team had built up a comfortable lead and led round the first four marks. Tactician Torben Grael called for the left side of the course on the final beat and when Peter Gilmour's OneWorld failed to cover, the Italian team separated out to 600m from OneWorld, dug into a big header and then tacked over to steal the lead. The Italian crew held on all the way down the final run to win by 20 seconds. Starting in grey, overcast conditions with low cloud from a lingering cold front over the Hauraki Gulf, the winds were light from the start and very shifty. After consulting with the OneWorld weather team, Charlie McKee was hoisted up the rig to continue spotting for wind. At four minutes to go, in the pre-start McKee was heard to make a definite call for the right. The OneWorld afterguard duly delivered and won the right side of the start line. The first shift was as McKee called and the American boat took the lead and led round the windward mark by 21 seconds. Downwind Prada's speed did not look superior today and Gilmour's team held off the Italian advance, despite a heart stopping moment on the second beat when Prada gained from a big left hander. OneWorld held their nerve, however, to gain back on the next right shift. But, it was not to be OneWorld's day and a similar big left shift on the final beat proved to be fatal for the Americans and gave Prada their first win of the semi-finals.
" Following the America's Cup Arbitration Panel decision of 9th December 2002, OneWorld Challenge must win five races to advance.
ALINGHI (SUI-64) BEAT USA-76 - DELTA 00:29
Alinghi leads semi-finals over Oracle BMW Racing by 2-0
Although the weather conditions were quiet for the start of the second race of the semi final, the pre-start action between this pair was close as both appeared to favour the right hand side of the course. After a long dial up, most of the manoueuvring took place at the committee boat end of the line and, as the starting gun went, it was USA-76 that managed to secure the extreme right hand end with Alinghi starting a boatlength to leeward. Shortly after the start, the breeze began to swing to the right, suggesting that USA-76 would have the most advantageous position on this leg. Yet Alinghi kept close and sailed a skillful first leg and not only stayed in contention but rounded ahead at the first weather mark. Over the next three legs, the Swiss team steadily increased their lead to 65 seconds by the second leeward mark rounding. The breeze in the Gulf then started its trip around the bay in the opposite direction and swung nearly 50 degrees to the left. Chris Dickson's team aboard Oracle BMW Racing worked hard at capitalising on this and did manage to haul back distance on Alinghi, slashing their lead to 38 seconds at the last weather mark rounding. But by the finish Alinghi had protected their position to cross the line 29 seconds in front in a match where their lead was never seriously challenged.