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AmericaOne Quokka Chronicles:

Umpires Contribute to AmericaOne's Fantastic Finish
by Chris Law, Quokka Sports

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Wednesday, January 12, 2000 -

Auckland, NZ

This is what it's all about. The final showdown between the two greatest syndicates yet to challenge for the America's Cup. Paul Cayard's AmericaOne from San Francisco vs. Patrizio Bertelli's Prada Challenge from Italy.

Let's sit back for the greatest boat race I've ever witnessed to date. The stage was set: 085 degrees was the wind line (bearing to the windward mark, 14 knots true. I won't bore you with the early start sequence. The key decision came with three minutes to go. AmericaOne tactician John Kostecki called for the left-hand end.

As the boats came off the line, Luna Rossa was first to tack to the right. AmericaOne dug to the left and tacked to port; not only did it get a slow, gradual left-hand shift, but also slightly more pressure all the time.

The graphics package on the TV screen showed the gain line going out and the number increasing rapidly until AmericaOne led by over a minute at the first windward mark. There was a feeling of disappointment, as this boat race seemed to be going the way of so many others -- in a procession.

But Prada kept to its task, and as the breeze dropped the Italians lowered the delta, from 1:02 at the first windward mark to 58 seconds at the second windward mark, 25 at the second leeward mark, and a lead of six seconds at the last windward mark.

It was a phenomenal beat. Frustratingly, the other races distracted the television monitors. But we were right behind the pair as gradually and carefully the two tacticians battled, picking the windshifts with precision. Prada had got to the right and AmericaOne made the fatal mistake of crossing to the port layline near the top mark rather than protect starboard advantage.

With Luna Rossa's foaming bow wave plowing into the weather mark from the right, Prada immediately squeezed and then luffed, forcing AmericaOne to tack. Prada tacked for the mark first, AmericaOne followed, and Prada elected to gybe-set. AmericaOne followed and this set up the ultimate last run.

There are two pertinent rules here. A windward boat must keep clear at all times of a leeward boat, and a leeward boat when overlapped must not sail above her proper course. AmericaOne caught Luna Rossa to leeward, became overlapped, and argued flag after flag after flag that the Italians were sailing below their proper course. Luna Rossa, overlapped to windward, claimed flag after flag after flag that the Americans were sailing above their proper course.

Then Prada was penalised. Yellow flag, yellow ball in the air. The umpires were right there, calling the overlap from the wing boat. And I have to say, if I had to fall one side or the other, I felt AmericaOne sailed above its proper course -- which is identified as the fastest point of sail in the absence of the other boat.

To satisfy myself, I went to the umpires' debriefing and listened in detail to the umpires' explanation. They're calling it this way. If two boats converge on different proper courses, then the windward boat has to keep clear. That, we all know. That's the easy bit. Up ahead in Matches 1 and 2, both pairs were gybing for the finish line. Therefore, you could argue that the proper course of AmericaOne was to sail above the starboard end of the finish line.

The key explanation to me, in discussing it with the umpire in question: It's like an overlap. An overlap is not created at a point in time. It's established for a period of time. Likewise with proper course, you have to be clearly sailing above your proper course. In this case the umpires were not satisfied that AmericaOne was. More importantly, as the windward boat, Prada did not do anything to try to respond. Perhaps if Prada had luffed to match AmericaOne's course and then protested, it would have at least been green-flagged and the penalty just might have gone the other way. That's the best I can do to explain it without using pictures, models, or hand gestures.

Prada now did a brilliant job. It gybed onto port and somehow crossed AmericaOne. Bear in mind, the rule now says that any alteration of course by a right-of-way boat (AmericaOne) gives the give-way boat (Prada) new room and opportunity to keep clear.

Anyway, it was green-flagged and there followed a trail of fish-tail, transom-hanging, handbrake-turn gybes. I have to confess I didn't see it, but AmericaOne's spinnaker grazed Luna Rossa's backstay [?]. The penalties were therefore neutralised and the yellow ball removed.

At this point you have to pull out and ask, "Why didn't AmericaOne and Cayard back off and take the spinnaker down, and not push the issue?" But I guess they know that now. Anyhow, you could argue that it was a professional foul. Cayard, in getting to the right of Prada, got penalised, but in doing so could lay the finish.

Prada tried to get back to them. And indeed, if it hadn't collapsed its spinnaker or tried to flip-flop gybe, it might've just been able to maintain the overlap. As it was, Cayard was able to reach the safe zone of the two boat length circle, call for water and gybe across the finish line. The official delta was eight seconds, which I don't believe. I made it more like half a boat length.

If this is a taste of things to come, boy, have we opened a vintage case of wine. But this result leaves Prada frustratingly under pressure, as both Nippon and Stars & Stripes won today. I can't wait for tomorrow.


For full story go to: www.americascup.org

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