AUCKLAND, New Zealand -- AmericaOne defeated Italy's Prada Challenge today to win the fifth race in the America's Cup challenger finals and trim the Italians' lead in the best-of-nine series to 3-2.
The margin of victory, 34 seconds, obscures what was an excellent, hard-fought and close race. It was won not by superior boat speed, but by the greater experience of the American skipper, Paul Cayard, and his crew.
Prada's boat, Luna Rossa, looked set for another win, but as the boats ran almost neck and neck on the second downwind leg, Cayard fooled the Italians into thinking he was jibing. They crash-jibed and broached out of control. The race was won or, perhaps, lost at that moment.
Cayard said he felt sure he and his crew had now "got the zip back into AmericaOne."
"We got a good start," he said, "and John [Kostecki, tactician] picked the shifts all the way up the first leg to give us an awesome lead at the first mark."
Commenting on his fake jibe, Cayard said: "We were looking for an opportunity to shake them for sure. They bit at it."
Cayard said his victory was a tremendous confidence builder.
"This was the hardest of the four we've got to win," he said.
Prada skipper Francesco de Angelis later said he temporarily blacked out when Luna Rossa's boom hit him in the head as he tried to respond to Cayard's false jibe. The blow stunned him, and he said it accounted for the miscalculation in balance that sent the Italian boat into a wild broach. De Angelis was not seriously hurt.
With a 22-knot, southwesterly wind at the start, Cayard crossed the line seven seconds ahead with excellent speed and with Luna Rossa tucked under it to leeward.
A wind shift favored AmericaOne, and up the first beat Cayard gained on every tack. At the first mark, AmericaOne led by 32 seconds.
Both boats went for a bear-away set with high-shouldered spinnakers on port. The Italians jibed to starboard and went higher. Cayard jibed and attempted to cover, but Luna Rossa was sailing deeper and relentlessly gaining. But by halfway down the second leg and with the wind down to 16 knots, Prada had slashed that lead by nearly half.
The wind was shifting left and suddenly AmericaOne found itself being affected by Prada's wind shadow. Prada jibed to port, but Cayard covered nearly a minute later. Prada immediately came back to starboard with a better approach to the mark. The Italians had closed to within 2 1/2 boat lengths.
Now, the breeze was back up to 20 knots, and Cayard sought to clamp a tight cover on the Italians.
Out toward the starboard lay line, Prada initiated a sustained tacking duel and, with each tack, the Italians gained, closing to within 1 1/2 boat lengths. Cayard tacked right on the lay line and had to pinch up for the mark. AmericaOne's lead at the mark was 18 seconds.
Now, all the pressure fell upon the Americans. With the wind at 23 knots, the Italians launched their downwind attack with an excellent jibe. The Americans followed, but their lime-green spinnaker looked unstable. The Italians jibed again. Again Cayard covered.
But a one-meter-long rip appeared in AmericaOne's spinnaker. Having exploded eight spinnakers in the challenger series, it didn't look good for Cayard.
With just 30 meters between them, he threw a dummy jibe at the Italians, and they fell for it. The Italians crash-jibed and immediately got into a terrible tangle. They jibed and tried to come back when they realized they had been duped.
De Angelis offered no excuses for his loss today. "We came here expecting hard races," he said, "and that is exactly what we are getting.
"We are new to this [match racing] game, so every time we go out against a much more experienced crew, we learn something."
NOTES: New Zealand police were investigating the overnight sabotage of highly sensitive scientific instruments aboard a weather buoy positioned on the America's Cup course. Vandals smashed solar panels and cut electronic cables on the buoy, which is a vital part of AmericaOne's strategy.
The big red buoy provides a stream of information on wind-strength and direction and sea and air temperature. The data has been analyzed by AmericaOne's meteorologist, Dr. Roger Badham, who has used the results to make predictions.