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Skippers alter course for ScubaCam


SAN DIEGO -- Sailing commentator Gary Jobson, who works for ESPN, which has -- er, had -- a ScubaCam in this America's Cup, was aboard America3, interviewing Buddy Melges and Bill Koch yesterday afternoon.

At that point, the Italian challenger, Il Moro, was flying a protest flag and apparently interested in redress because its course had been obstructed during a rounding at the fifth mark.

The obstruction was Bob Sloan, a diver who was operating ScubaCam and had drifted from his position inside the rounding buoy into the path of the oncoming boats.

Said Koch: "We saw him, too, but I decided, 'I don't want to kill this guy,' so we just went around him."

Going around the diver meant, Koch said, sailing perhaps an extra 10 feet over the 20.03 mile course.

"We sailed the same distance as [Il Moro skipper] Paul Cayard did," Koch said. "In a race like this, 10 feet in 20 miles isn't going to make any difference."

Melges chimed in, "But you know those Italians, they'll protest anything."

"There was an incident there. . . . " Cayard said. "I think he was probably in a nice spot when [America3] went by, but because I was so far behind, he drifted with the current for a long time and ended up about 30 meters into the course."

Cayard said his first instinct was to make a normal rounding by turning between the cameraman and the buoy but they feared a floating cord attached to the diver might also be attached to the buoy.

"And if we did that [turn inside Sloan], we were going to kill the guy," Cayard said, "because he would have been dragged and slammed against the keel at 12 knots."

Instead, Il Moro went beyond the diver to make its turn.

Cayard and Il Moro decided later they would not file the protest.

Il Moro sailed over Sloan, who had dived when he saw the 75-foot racing yacht bearing down on him. Sloan was not injured.

ESPN later decided that it would pull ScubaCam for the rest of the match.

* Said Melges of Koch's performance while sailing five of the eight legs in the race:

"He's out here against the second best sailor in the world -- that's even by his own estimation -- and the first best sailor is sitting in a powerboat somewhere out here."

Koch rates Cayard the second best sailor in the world and Dennis Conner, whose team was eliminated by America3, as the best sailor in the world.

"Well, I don't have to tell you that I loved it," Melges said, who hasn't been assigned a ranking by Koch.

Between them, Koch and Melges got America3 around the course yesterday in 2:22:53.

* The Italians had a chaffing problem with their mainsail on the first downwind leg and sent a man up in a bosun's chair to patch it. They had no problems with it afterward.

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