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7 October 2002, 09:10 am
Louis Vuitton Cup - Round Robin One Day Five
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Waiting©Bob Grieser/Louis Vuitton

America's Cup
Hauraki Gulf, Auckland

Course Romeo completed its two matches in light and shifty winds, but not so for Juliet.
The southeasterly wind direction is perhaps the most unstable on the Hauraki Gulf. The breeze has to flow over the Coromandel mountain range and then Rangitoto and Motutapu islands before touching down on the water. Add huge shifts to the mix and it's remarkable that racing can be completed.

Sailors and race officials alike were challenged by the initial southeasterly wind during Flight 5 of Round Robin 1 of Louis Vuitton Cup 2003. The wind started from a direction of 130 degrees, but backed more than 150 degrees before settling in the northwest by the end of the nearly 3-hour race.

That was on Course Romeo, which could be considered lucky just to get its two matches off on the green circle in the northeast Hauraki Gulf.

The two matches on Course Juliet, on the red circle in the northwestern gulf, sat through a nearly four-hour delay before being postponed due to lack of wind.

The winds on Course Romeo fluctuated so much that Principal Race Officer Peter Reggio was forced to change every mark of the course after the opening beat. Nevertheless, he felt the two matches were fair.

"The wind was established on the first beat," Reggio said of the 130 wind direction. "Kenny (Read, Stars & Stripes helmsman) sailed by with about seven and a half minutes to the start and I asked him what wind he had. He said '131'."

The New York Yacht Club's Stars & Stripes may have had the same wind reading as the committee, but they didn't have the luck against the Seattle Yacht Club's OneWorld Challenge. With young helmsman James Spithill guiding USA-67, OneWorld opened a lead of 1:57 at the windward mark en route to a 1:21 victory.

"The way that the race played out was unusual in that the wind kept swinging and never really died," said tactician Charlie McKee, who spent the day wind spotting atop the mast. "It swung so far, but the race committee kept moving the marks and we kept having sort of beats and runs. It never turned into a drifter, but you never knew what would happen next."

OneWorld continues to head the leaderboard, with 4 points on a 4-0 record. The team that will have a point deducted from its scoreline at the end of Round Robin 2 (in accordance with a penalty issued by the America's Cup Arbitration Panel) is showing the fleet that time and preparation are still the hallmarks of a solid campaign.

"We've spent more time down here than anyone else," OneWorld's Executive Director Bob Ratliffe has said. OneWorld launched its two boats last March and has tuned them on the gulf since.

The final delta belies the lopsided nature of this match. OneWorld led by 3:29 at the second leeward mark and 4:35 at the last windward mark. OneWorld was threatened only once, when Stars & Stripes closed to within 16 seconds at the first leeward mark.

Stars & Stripes gained a total of 4:55 on the first and last runs, when OneWorld used a Code Zero-type asymmetric sail tacked to the deck while Stars & Stripes flew an asymmetric spinnaker tacked to its pole. OneWorld's sail was set on a roller-furling mechanism and rolled up when the yacht jibed.

"I don't think it was the sail so much as they brought down new breeze to us both times," said McKee, who was still wobbly shoreside after sitting in a harness all day. "You could see it setting up that way on the first run, with them getting puffs and rolling down inside of us.

"Neither leg had anything to do with the sail as much as those runs were nerve wracking,"
McKee said.

The Alinghi Team won in similar fashion to OneWorld. Namely, the Swiss survived the wild wind variations.

The Swiss team, with local maestros Russell Coutts and Brad Butterworth leading the charge, overcame a feisty GBR Challenge to post another point on the scoreboard.

Alinghi also has 4 points in the round, but trails OneWorld on the leaderboard because it has a record of 4-1. Alinghi enjoys its bye tomorrow.

Despite the loss, GBR Challenge sailors felt good about the outcome, trailing by no more than 1:49 before the finish. "I'd rather sail them in that (light winds) than 20 knots and not shifting," said skipper Ian Walker, who believed the shifty conditions presented more options for passing.

Alinghi's winning margin became inflated at the end when GBR Challenge crossed the finish without a headsail. The crew doused their asymmetric spinnaker, their best A1 sail, when the sheet came off in a jibe.

In a day when the wind on the racecourse rarely topped 6 knots after the start, the GBR Challenge still ripped its mainsail. With Chris Main aloft spotting for wind, he put his foot through the mainsail luff trying to kick-jibe the full-length battens, which brought guffaws from the crew. A 3-metre long tear developed, that was repaired with sticky back material.

"It was of complete irrelevance to the race, but it was quite funny," said Walker, who was unaware why the crew was chuckling.

With so many teams completing a different amount of races, the leaderboard is a little jumbled. After OneWorld (four races) and Alinghi (five races), in first and second, respectively, with 4 points each, Oracle BMW Racing and Victory Challenge are tied with 3 points on 3-0 records.

Team Dennis Conner stands alone in fifth with 2 points on a 2-3 record. The GBR Challenge and Prada are tied for sixth, each with 1 point on 1-4 records. Mascalzone Latino and France's le Défi ARÉVA are at the bottom of the board, each winless in four matches.

The two matches postponed on Course Juliet, Oracle BMW Racing vs. Victory Challenge and Prada vs. Mascalzone Latino, are rescheduled for Saturday, 12 Oct. If there are more postponements the matches will be sailed after all nine flights are completed.
Sean McNeill
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