First round comes to crashing halt; Final 2 races postponed; Prada leads Cup trials


The final two races in Round 1 of the Louis Vuitton Cup were postponed yesterday to allow several challenger teams to regroup after a day of rough-and-tumble competition on Hauraki Gulf in New Zealand.

But even a stay probably won't be enough to keep the Italian challenger, Prada, from finishing the round in first place and executing the field with a 10-0 record.

Prada (8-0) already has beaten the top two American teams -- Young America by 10 seconds and AmericaOne by 17 seconds -- and has only Le Defi of France and Abracadabra 2000 from Hawaii left on its race card. The French team was 2-7 at the end of racing yesterday, and Abracadabra was 4-5.

In both victories over the top American teams, Prada was behind on the final leg, but AmericaOne blew out a spinnaker, and Young America lost control of a spinnaker sheet when a snap shackle failed.

"We had a little luck," Prada tactician Torben Grael said yesterday, adding that Young America started well and aggressively defended the favored side of the course.

"We just tried to see if we could hang around in case an opportunity presented itself."

Oddly enough, the same type of shackle that failed on Young America (New York Yacht Club) yesterday also failed on Prada twice during its race with AmericaOne (St. Francis Yacht Club, San Francisco).

Ed Baird, skipper of Young America, said in a light moment afterward, "I think it is the same clip, and [the Italians] have been passing it around. It goes to show you should be careful where you get your snap shackles from."

But, Baird said, there is little doubt the Italian team is a major force in the challenger trials.

"In the end the result was based on something breaking," he said. "So that tells me that we have a real boat race out there with a good team that can beat you if you make a mistake."

Yesterday, there were mistakes galore, and after two collisions and a structural failure on the Swiss boat Be Happy, race officials postponed racing until Wednesday to allow time for repairs.

In the first pre-start collision, Asura (Japan) ran into the stern of Bravo Espana (Spain) and was penalized a half-point in the final standings for the round.

In the other collision, Stars and Stripes and Dennis Conner, the only skipper to have won and lost the America's Cup, smashed into AmericaOne during the prestart. Conner was required to take a penalty turn during his loss to AmericaOne skipper Paul Cayard, and the race jury granted AmericaOne three days to make repairs.

Be Happy, an unconventional design with fore and aft rudders, was nearly dismasted during its race with Le Defi when the load bearing bulkhead for the running backstays broke loose inside the boat.

According to the boat's helmsman, Jochen Schumann, the backstay fitting tore out of the deck and only the strength of the mainsheet and the mainsail kept the rig from going over the side.

Be Happy withdrew from its race and was towed to shore.

In other morning races yesterday, Spain beat Stars and Stripes: America True beat Young Australia; and AmericaOne beat Abracadabra.

In other afternoon races, America True beat Be Happy (default); Young America beat Young Australia; Asura beat Espana: and Abracadabra beat Le Defi.

When racing resumes, the top match will be between Young America and AmericaOne, presumably, for second place.

But in past challenger trials some teams have used the first round robin as a practice session. After all, more than 700 races will be sailed before a single challenger is selected to sail against New Zealand in the best-of-nine America's Cup series in February.

First-round victories are worth one point, while in the next two round robins, the values increase to 4 and 9 points. The six highest-scoring teams advance to the semifinals, with the best two sailing a final series to determine the challenger.

During news conferences in the first week of racing off Auckland, several skippers were asked whether they were trying their hardest in the first round.

"I think that, for most of the teams, there's a lot more to be gained by sailing efficiently than not," Baird said. "Everybody is extremely competitive. It would be a great surprise to me if anybody were holding back."

The round robins and the days off between series serve as a training ground for crews, time trial track for boats and a test lab for designers and sailmakers.

In many cases, the boats that sail in the later rounds will be much different than those that competed in Round 1.

The French team will have a new keel configuration and a longer hull for the next round. The Swiss admit they are still trying to learn how to steer their twin-rudder boat.

Six of the 11 challengers -- including Prada, Young America and AmericaOne -- are racing the older of their pair of International America's Cup Class boats and saving their newer and presumably faster boat for later rounds.

"It's going to be great," said Cayard. "You have a few boats that are initially fighting for two spots in January, and eventually one spot. It looks like we can be one of those boats. . . . [and] our new boat is yet to arrive."


Prada Challenge 8, Young America 7, AmericaOne 7, America True 5, Abracadabra 2000 4, Stars and Stripes 3, Nippon Challenge 3, Spanish Challenge 4, Le Defi Francais 2, Young Australia 1, Fast 2000 0.

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