SAN DIEGO -- Il Moro di Venezia of Italy yesterday defeated America3 by three seconds and won Race 2 of the 28th America's Cup by the smallest margin in cup history.
The difference turned out to be a few feet of headsail, which Il Moro let balloon out above its bow as the boats surged side by side to the finish line.
The activity at the finish was a proper cap for a day of aggressive, skillful sailing by Il Moro skipper Paul Cayard in XTC winds that ranged from seven to nine knots.
"I feel like we gave them some pretty good shots -- downwind and upwind with the slam dunk," said Cayard, whose winning time was 2 houurs, 46 minutes, 16 seconds. "It looks like it is going to be a hard-fought week."
Before Il Moro and America3 hooked up yesterday, the closest match in America's Cup history was U.S. skipper Bus Mosbacher and Weatherly defeating Gretel of Australia in 1962 by 26 seconds.
On the last leg of the race yesterday, America3 twice flew protest flags trying to get the on-water judges to rule that Il Moro was sailing an illegal course.
The judges ruled the U.S. protests unfounded, as they did two others earlier in the race.
America3 withdrew a planned protest after the race.
In the pre-start maneuvers, both boats wanted the right-hand side of the starting line, but after a series of circles and an encounter with a spectator boat, the yachts split.
America3 ended up on starboard tack toward the left side of the starting line, with Il Moro sailing right, toward the committee boat. America3 won the start by one second, but lost the preferred position on the course. "We kind of liked the right side of the course," Cayard said. "And we had a few interactions up the first beat that we seemed to get the better advantage on."
Il Moro did not benefit greatly from slightly better wind on the right-hand side until three quarters up the first windward leg, when helmsman Buddy Melges tried to duck America3 below the Italians' stern as their tacks crossed.
Cayard blocked America3's attempt to sail out from beneath Il Moro by tacking on top of the U.S. boat -- the celebrated slam dunk -- and buried Melges and Bill Koch, the America3 syndicate head and skipper, in dirty air to the first mark.
"We tried to break through his slam dunk," Koch said. "But [Cayard] did a masterful job of preventing it, and that is what put us behind at the first mark." At the first turn on the eight-leg course, Il Moro had built a 33-second lead.
On the first downwind leg, the yachts engaged in a terrific gybing duel, with America3 seeming to regain virtually all of the 33 seconds it lost on the first leg in spite of four successive poor gybes. As the boats neared the mark, Il Moro began to luff up on America3, the sort of aggressive tactic more likely to be found in dinghy racing than between $5 million, 75-foot cup boats. America3 seemed panicked by the feint, lost the pressure in its spinnaker and Il Moro bore away to round the mark and lead by 32 seconds.
"Paul did a great job of luffing us," Koch said. "I haven't reflected enough to say what we could have done differently. But I think that gave [Il Moro] a 20-second lead at least." Cayard said about America3's poor reaction to his bluff: "I just said, boy this is a Christmas present, so I just wrapped it up."
On the second windward leg, America3 again showed superior speed, gaining 12 seconds to trail by only 20. On the first reaching leg, with Koch at the helm of America3, Il Moro lost another two seconds and its lead was cut to 18.
Toward the end of the second reaching leg, Koch turned the helm over to Melges, but America3 lost a second, and Il Moro led by 19. On the second reach, Il Moro again flew a fractional gennaker while America3 stayed with a masthead selection.
Entering the final reaching leg, both boats set masthead gennakers.
By the end of the third reach, Il Moro's lead was down to 13 !! seconds.
On the last leg to windward, America3 initiated an intense tacking duel, but after 30-odd tacks, it lost 18 seconds and trailed Il Moro by 31 seconds with one leg downwind to sail.
With both boats carrying masthead gennakers, America3 seemed to steadily make up ground on Il Moro until the Italians slipped their gennaker across the finish line.