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AmericaOne Quokka Chronicles:

A Muscle Showdown
by Chris Law, Quokka Sports

View the Quokka Index

Saturday January 8, 2000 -

Auckland, NZ

The ultimate head-knocker. Testosterone time. Gladiators of the night. AmericaOne vs. Asura. Paul Cayard vs. Peter Gilmour.

The two muscle men of America's Cup match racing met head-to-head today on the Hauraki Gulf. These two skippers have it all in their camps: power, exuberance, integrity, maturity, physicality, track record, financial success, popularity you couldn't have a better match-up on a fantastic day for racing.

The wind was supposed to be a 5- to 10-knot seabreeze from the north/northeast -- the only sector of the Gulf that produces a sea swell. I made it 12 knots from 012 degrees at the start, but try as I might I couldn't decide which end of the line was biased. Warm and sunny, just the tops of the waves breaking. And that island, the name of which I can't pronounce, let alone spell, was in the top left hand corner of the course like the bunker on the 18th green.

In the past we've convinced ourselves that there's more pressure to the left. The locals say that in an offshore race you've got to clip the island. The breeze actually tracked right, to 025 degrees at one point, but the race committee took little notice and set the weather leg at 015 degrees.

Kaboom! Five-minute gun. Gilmour on starboard, Cayard on port. Both boats enter smack on time, blow the headsails, slam on the handbrakes and do a skid turn to windward. Gilmour must have thought that AmericaOne hadn't completed its tack because he sheeted in on starboard and went for his opponent.

He did this in the hope of gaining a port-starboard foul on Cayard. Imagine one boat on port approaching another on starboard. They luff head to wind. Neither has tacked and therefore, even though they're head to wind, they're still in a port-starboard situation. The port boat (Cayard) has to tack onto starboard before the windward boat (Gilmour) has to give way. Anyway, I digress. Ignore the last lot if you were bored.

Unable to gain a penalty on Cayard, Gilmour eventually tacks away onto port and Cayard follows. They dig deep into the start box, throwing a few half-hearted fake gybes that didn't fool anybody. With 1:26 to the gun Gilmour began his run toward the start line with Cayard to windward. They both hit the line smack on, full chat at the gun, with Cayard to windward by less than a length. Neither was prepared to give way. Horns locked like stags.

Cayard didn't flinch. This is the first time I've seen him so convinced. He seems to have found new confidence in his time and distance skills. The best call of the day came soon after the start. Rather than try and hang in to windward of Gilly, Cayard bailed early to the right.

Gilmour continued to the left. Afterwards he said he wanted the left. I agree. That island has some kind of influence and there always appears to be more pressure that way. I thought he had the option to cross at one point, but he hung in there and by his own estimation got too greedy. Finally, when he did come across, AmericaOne, on starboard, lee-bowed and bounced him back left.

This happened the whole way up the beat. Cayard kept bouncing Gilmour to the left side of the leg, eventually pushing him beyond the port layline. I have to say Gilmour did an excellent job hanging on to AmericaOne despite being disadvantaged with port tack, and rounded the top mark seven seconds behind. What a fantastic boat race.

AmericaOne went to their green spinnaker, which has yet to tear, and did a nice bear away set to the asymmetric gennaker. Nippon came around -- why haven't they got the rising sun on their spinnaker, and who is sponsor Nu Skin anyway? -- and chose a spinnaker. This was going to be an interesting tussle. The wind speed, at 11.5 or 12 knots, was right at the crossover point between symmetric and asymmetric kite. I have to say that in that breeze, it must be easier to defend with a gennaker than a spinnaker, because you're able to sail higher angles. Nevertheless, Gilmour only lost one second at the end of an exciting run.

From then on, the pressure was on AmericaOne not to slip up, and it wasn't about to. Not with a valuable win in the semifinals on the line. Not when it was positioned to take another step toward the Louis Vuitton finals.

Unless the Japanese got a break they weren't going to get out of jail. But they did come close. Gilmour made it scary for Cayard when he crossed to the right and took up position on AmericaOne's windward hip. Like Viper would say in "Top Gun," it's as bad as allowing a Russian MIG behind you in the sun.

Tactician John Kostecki had a master plan. The breeze was simply oscillating and rather than panic and tack towards Nippon, giving up some of the lead, he steadied Cayard and kept the team going straight. In the end the breeze faded left and when AmericaOne tacked to port, Nippon conceded defeat and tacked to port three lengths to leeward. When a boat tacks to leeward like this, it's trying to minimise its losses.

Nippon, however, hung tough. It showed good speed and kept the delta at the windward mark to a manageable 12 seconds. But it wouldn't fight back today. This was AmericaOne's day to shine.

AmericaOne went on to win by 23 seconds. Tight boat racing. How many times am I going to say that? It was a great result and they now join Stars & Stripes at the top of the leaderboard, three shots under par.

And guess what? Race 5 tomorrow pits AmericaOne against Stars & Stripes to complete the first of two round robins in the semifinals.

This regatta is getting better than vintage wine.



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