Alinghi move to Match Point over Oracle BMW whilst Prada run into penalty trouble on one of the best race days of the competition so far.
A Northerly 14 - 17 knot breeze brought heavier sea conditions to the Gulf, and provided plenty of challenges for the sailors, who revelled in the harsh conditions and provided one of the most exciting race days of the Louis Vuitton Cup with close-action starts, lead changes, and penalty calls featuring front and centre in the racing.
For the second consecutive day, the Hauraki Gulf was a dark, grey and gloomy place to sail as strong Northerly winds deposited warm, moist air over Auckland on Race Day Three.
Oracle BMW Racing skipper Chris Dickson put himself at the wheel of USA-76, leaving Peter Holmberg ashore and installing John Cutler as tactician in a shake-up to his afterguard. The move seemed to pay dividends early, but in the end, Alinghi earned its third consecutive victory and is now one win away from a berth in the Louis Vuitton Cup Finals.
In the other pairing, OneWorld again looked vulnerable to Prada's downwind speed, but a penalty call approaching the leeward mark went against the Italians, and gave the OneWorld crew the breathing room it needed to earn its second win on the water.
LOUIS VUITTON CUP SEMI FINAL
ALINGHI (SUI-64) BEAT USA-76 - DELTA 00:46
Alinghi leads semi-finals over Oracle BMW Racing by 3-0
Chris Dickson back at the helm of Oracle BMW took the fight to his old adversary in the pre-start, but it was Russell Coutts and the Alinghi team that came out on top with a perfectly timed run in to the start. Much to the anguish of Dickson, Alinghi managed to sail right over the face of USA-76 and 'locked out' the American team down to leeward. Dickson tacked twice and managed to wriggle clear of the close cover from Alinghi and found a small right shift out on the right hand side of the course. To the surprise the Alinghi afterguard Oracle BMW was able to pass ahead of the Swiss on starboard tack as the boats converged. Alinghi tacked just to leeward and this time is was Coutts' turn to be 'locked' to leeward and Dickson showed great fortitude, taking Alinghi all the way to the port tack lay line and beyond before tacking for the mark. Coutts was forced to follow all the way to the windward mark and rounded nine seconds behind Dickson. Oracle BMW did well to hold off the advances of the Swiss boat in an exciting run, with the boats just seconds apart. Alinghi opted for an asymmetric spinnaker, whilst USA-76 went for a more manoeuvrable symmetric kite, but the difference in boat speed was negligible in the 17 knot winds. The American's clung firmly to the lead until the final beat when Coutts' team struck back after sniffing out a small left shift as a rain cloud passed to the left of the race course. This time the Alinghi team was elated when it realised it had recaptured the lead and thereafter covered Dickson's every move to the finish line.
ONEWORLD (USA-67) BEAT LUNA ROSSA (ITA-74) - DELTA 00:33
OneWorld leads semi-finals over Luna Rossa by 2-1" " Following the America's Cup Arbitration Panel decision of 9th December 2002, OneWorld Challenge must win five races to advance.
After a very close start, and neutral first beat, this race was decided approaching the leeward mark for the first time. Prada skipper Francesco de Angelis had trailed by about one boat length throughout the match, rounding the top mark 10-seconds behind. The Italians used great downwind speed to put relentless pressure on OneWorld and helmsman James Spithill, to the point where halfway down the run, Prada was bow forward, on the inside, both boats on starboard gybe. OneWorld gybed and Prada followed, with the Americans now to windward, and in position to roll back over the Italians. Spithill gained a clear ahead position nearing the starboard gybe layline for the mark. Prada surged forward, and gained a slight overlap to leeward but didn't have luffing rights. As the Italians kept sailing past the layline, pushing OneWorld further from the mark, OneWorld skipper Peter Gilmour started shouting and waving the Y-flag to the Umpires as Prada gained a big advantage and gybed inside OneWorld to round the mark ahead. The Umpires agreed with Gilmour, giving Prada a red-flag penalty for sailing above its proper course (Rule 17) - the red flag indicating that the Umpires thought Prada gained a controlling position and thus had to take the penalty turn immediately. As the boats settled up the start of the second beat, OneWorld enjoyed a commanding lead after Prada discharged its penalty and the Americans held on the rest of the way to win the race.