Thrilling America’s Cup Challenger Semi-Finals
Dawn Riley, CEO of America True, put together the only coed team and the second place team overall coming into the semi-finals. One in the semis the Detroit, Michigan area native and America True skipper fell early and often. Even after early elimination, the spoiler role eluded America True as Stars and Stripes won a “must win” race with only two races to go. only coed team and the second place team overall coming into the semi-finals. One in the semis the Detroit, Michigan area native and America True skipper fell early and often. Even after early elimination, the spoiler role eluded America True as Stars and Stripes won a “must win” race with only two races to go.
In race nine, John Cutler, steering America True (USA-51) won the start against Ken Read, steering Stars & Stripes (USA-55) but saw the lead evaporate seven minutes into the race on the second cross. Both skippers fought for the favored committee boat end of the line, but it was Cutler, who had entered from the disadvantaged port tack end, and started nearest the committee after a spirited battle for control in testing conditions. They split after the start with Stars & Stripes going left and gaining in a left-hand shift. On the second cross, Read on port, confidently sailed across Cutler’s bow with barely a quarter boat length lead. After that Stars & Stripes made steady gains on all windward legs. The boat showed a nice easy motion in the steep, sloppy seas. Cutler took the fight back to the San Diego boat on the first two runs, closing to Stars & Stripes’ transom at the end of the runs. The second time, America True was close enough to hook Stars & Stripes’ trailing spinnaker sheet on its bow as they rounded in company. It was a different story on the last run as Stars & Stripes surfed to the finish with a 300 meter lead.
Close but . . . seemed to define America True in the semis.
Team Dennis Conners always seems to rise to the challenge. Despite losing a protest to Nippon Challenge, for building a rudder in Australia, can tie Prada on the final day and force a tie-breaker. America One clinched the top spot in the semi-finals in race nine with a surprisingly close, 17 second, win over the French.
As we go to press the showdown is looming with a very real possibility of a tie-breaker between Prada and Stars & Stripes for the final position in the Louis Vuitton Cup challenge. The winner would go toe to toe with Paul Cayard’s America One in a best of nine series for the right to face the New Zealanders for the America’s Cup.
As far as the tie-breaking format, the International Jury has provided an interpretation of the Rules to explain what will happen. If there are just two boats in the sail-off, there will be a draw to determine who will enter the start box on starboard and who will enter on port. The match will be sailed, and the winner will proceed to the Finals of the Louis Vuitton Cup.
If the sail-off is to include three boats, the Rule says the minimum number of races will be sailed. That means the boats will draw to be boat A, boat B and Boat C. The draw is important, with boat C perhaps having an advantage. It works like this: boat A sails against boat B, with the winner sailing boat C. The winner of that second match advances. So boat C only needs to sail, and win, once, whereas boats A and B would need two wins to advance.
The real message here is that these Louis Vuitton Cup Semi-Finals are still wide open for the second spot. Three teams can still advance, and the only boat with a lock at this stage is America One. The assembled media asked Paul Cayard if he had looked ahead yet, wondering if he would perhaps try to manipulate the standings a little by not sailing in Race 10. “I know there’s a lot of conjecture about if we’re going to sail or if we’re going to put the boat in the water,” Cayard said. “We still have to take it one day at a time and do our best, I don’t have any alterations to that strategy.”
Take it one day at a time . . . sensible advice. Probably the only advice Riley and fellow midwesterner, Jeff Ecklund of Wayzata, Minnesota can heed at this time. Jeff, 36, made the Young America Team as a sail trimmer last fall. Young America, PACT 95 and PACT 2000, was the New York Yacht Club challenger. They made headlines when their boat virtually broke in half and nearly sank. They never seemed to get the program on track after the break-up and failed to qualify for the semi-finals.
Both midwesterners, Dawn Riley, the CEO and skipper, and Jeff Ecklund, sail trimmer, made it to the play-offs. Both will miss the big dance. Both have gone further and contributed much in dreams followed and challenges met. Riley has become almost a cult person among young women sailors.
Soon we’ll be watching an exciting Louis Vuitton finals. After watching America One and Prada go head to head the anticipation of a nine race series is tantalizing. And then . . . The Kiwis waiting with a bye are reportedly practicing hard.
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