Kiwis Rally for 2-1 America's Cup Lead
Tuesday, June 26th 2007, 2:53 pm
By: News On 6
VALENCIA, Spain (AP) _ In a classic duel on high seas, the challenger from New Zealand prevailed in a race with eight lead changes Tuesday to beat defending champion Alinghi and pull ahead 2-1 in the America's Cup.
Emirates Team New Zealand, which nearly had a crew member fall overboard, won a bow-to-bow contest to the finish for a 25-second win in the best-of-nine series.
New Zealand conceded the early lead to guard its right hand advantage in the windy conditions. The move paid off as the Kiwis took a 300-meter lead up the first upwind lap. But a poor spinnaker set around the second marker almost threw bowman Richard Meacham over the side and allowed the Swiss back into the race up the third leg.
Alinghi beat the Kiwis to round the final marker by a boat-length but the New Zealand team split to the left and found a stronger wind shift. The lead changed three times on the final run before the Kiwis crossed the line for a hard-fought victory that handed Alinghi its first deficit in America's Cup racing.
The fourth race for the Auld Mug, international sport's oldest trophy, is Wednesday.
Wind blew in all directions across the course, generating large swells and testing both teams' decision-making.
After coming in on starboard at the start, the Kiwis immediately engaged the Swiss as both teams circled with the priority being to take the right.
The NZL-92 boat won that contest but paid for it with a slow start, as the SUI-100 yacht came off the line eight seconds in front.
Alinghi eventually tacked back toward its opponent as the soft breeze on the left softened. With the boats about 3/5ths of a mile apart, the Swiss did not want to let their opponents get away as the conditions favored the NZL-92 yacht.
The Kiwis bobbed up the right, easily slicing through the rising swell with enough pace to make the first cross for the first time in the series.
The left hurt the SUI-100 yacht, as it crashed through the whitecaps _ even dipping under it.
The Kiwis raced around the first marker and past their opponent _ who were still going the other way _ with a lead of 1 minute, 23 seconds.
Alinghi sent the 49-year-old Murray Jones up the rig to check the weather ahead, just as the Kiwis had traveler Adam Beashel up his own mast for most of the downwind laps.
Alinghi's gybes downwind were stiff and their sets were slower, but the Kiwis still felt the Swiss advancing.
The pressure showed as Meacham clung to the ropes to keep from falling off the bow as the NZL-92 rounded the second marker, and the sloppy jib takedown during a sudden gust saw the Kiwis' kite get tangled up.
As New Zealand struggled to wind the entire sheet in, Alinghi moved within three boat-lengths.
When the boats met in the middle, the Swiss were higher on the left and in the lead.
Kiwi helmsman Dean Barker came straight in at Alinghi counterpart Ed Baird as both boats edged to the final marker.
Alinghi rounded with a 15-second lead as both performed clean spinnaker hoists.
A big split down the last lap had the Swiss to the right on a straight course as it avoided any unnecessary gybing. But as the boats came back at each other near the end, an untidy jib cost Alinghi.