AmericaOne have just one mast left for the Louis Vuitton Cup yachting finals after almost breaking their main spar in racing today, handing their rivals Prada a significant advantage for the rest of the series. Paul Cayard ordered his boat out of the third race of the series against Luna Rossa of Italy after hearing carbon cracking noises from the rig.
Cayard said the mast had been “degenerating pretty quickly” and he decided it was better to end the race with it still upright. The challenge had a tough day on the Hauraki Gulf, and saw three crew injured and a catalogue of breakdowns and errors before finally being forced from the race. Their withdrawal handed a second win to the Prada challenge, who now have a 2-1 lead in the best of nine series which decides who races Team New Zealand in the America’s Cup next month.
Cayard, who showed some dry humour as he talked about trying to kill his crew while apologising for not remembering all the gear breakages, said there was no point “whining and crying” about their bad day. “We had a lot of things go wrong for us today. Nobody’s down or whining in our camp, we’re just getting on with the work,” he said. Cayard confirmed after the race his challenge was now done to one mast. He said the other mast had major damage, and probably could not be repaired in time for the rest of this series.
They will now take the mast out of the boat used in the three round robins, USA49, and fit it in the boat they are now using, USA61, in time for the next race tomorrow. However taking their best mast out of action could rob AmericaOne of significant speed against Luna Rossa. The damaged mast also robs AmericaOne of the chance to do two-boat warmups before racing, vital in tuning up the crew, helping sail selections and deciding which side of the course might be best. Cayard told NZPA only having two masts for the two boat challenge had been a budget decision, with other funds directed to the sail programme. He accepted having just one mast for the finals series could be a problem.
The Swiss boat Be Happy was forced out of the Louis Vuitton regatta in the third round robin when it broke its only mast, with a lack of money and racing rules preventing them picking up another mast. Cayard said the mast on USA49 was similar to the one in USA61, though a little less stiff. He said mainsails may have to be changed a little to fit the new spar.
In contrast to AmericaOne, Prada had a superb day on the water. In winds gusting to more than thirty knots and a heavy swell, Luna Rossa experienced no gear breakages, and the Italian crew sailed superbly — defying pre-finals predictions by American supporters that the Latin temperaments on Luna Rossa would crack under pressure. Cayard said the differences between the two teams could be put down to Prada’s extensive preparation on the Hauraki Gulf. The Italians have been in Auckland for two previous summers and launched their racing boats last May. USA61, configured for light winds, was launched only in November.
AmericaOne’s problems began before racing began, when two crew, Greg Prussia and Curtis Blewett, were sent up the mast in the high winds to try and repair the broken main halyard. Both suffered for their efforts. Prussia was swung hard into the rigging after a harness problem, suffering severe bruising to his legs. Blewett was caught in the same swinging, and his lips were still bleeding hours after racing finished. Prussia was taken down from the mast, and offloaded onto a support boat and an ambulance, while another bowman, Ralph Steitz, was helicoptered to Gulf Harbour and then shipped to the race boat.
Although AmericaOne got the best of the start, and lead after the first beat, its problems began on the first run when Cayard failed to keep clear of Luna Rossa, with the right of way, and was penalised for gybing too close when his spinnaker crashed into Luna Rossa’s rig. As AmericaOne’s green sail flew all over the