Australia swept to victory in the second race of the America's Cup final series tonight, marking the first foreign success in the competition in a decade.
In a race deemed "the best 12-meter contest I've ever seen" by Australian project manager Alan Bond, the white yacht from across the globe came from behind twice to hand the U.S. defender, Freedom, its first defeat and tie the best of seven series, 1-1.
Freedom flew a red protest flag as she crossed the finish in near darkness, but Bond insisted afterwards, "We won fair and square. There are no grounds for a protest and we really have no idea what it's all about."
Ed duMoulin, Freedom syndicate manager, refused to comment on the protest, saying simply that it may or may not be filed late tonight.
It was one of the most startling and exciting races in the rich history of ths 129-year-old competition.
Ghosting along in fluky light airs on the last leg of the 24.3-mile course, the foreign challenger slipped by Freedom halfway to the finish line and held on to win by 28 seconds.
The wind provided a great boost to the prospects of the Australians, who only a few days ago seemed destined to fall in four straight contests.
Australia is lighter than Freedom and with her innovative new bending mast she has now snown a distinct speed advantage in light air. The mast gives her the capability to carry about 200 square feet more mainsail than Freedom.
Today that edge finally paid off under sunny skies in Rhode Island Sound.
Australia led for most of the first two-thirds of the race after barely losing the start. She relinquished the lead on a bad tactical error late in the race, then regained it in a stirring tacking duel that involved more than 30 tacks on the final upwind leg.
There were great ups and downs for the challenger. She sailed right past Freedom early on the first leg, showing her superior speed in six knots of wind, and held the advantage through the next three legs.
But as the boats rounded the fourth mark and turned downward with Australia in the lead by 46 seconds, skipper Jim Hardy committed a tactical error that veteran Australian 12-meter sailor Jack Gale described as "simply a stupid mistake."
He set off down the right-hand side of the course, leaving a swath of open air on the left side open to the Americans. Freedom's skipper Dennis Conner rounded the mark and headed for the clear air, found new breeze and swept past the white boat.
It looked like the end for the Aussies.
Conner led by 21 seconds as they rounded the last mark and headed for the finish, 4 1/2 miles away.
With daylight dying and the wind pushing listlessly from the southwest, Hardy and Conner engaged in the final tacking duel. Again and again the boats tacked through the wind. iAustralia began to gain. Conditions were perfect for her maximum sail area.
Halfway up the course they crossed paths and Australia had taken the lead. She held on and shortly after 7:15 p.m. she crossed the line to the delirious shouts and bleating horns of her followers in the spectator fleet.
It marked the first time since 1970 that a foreign boat had won a race in an America's Cup final series. That one was Hardy's doing as well; he piloted Gretel II to victory over Intrepid. The Aussies did not win another race that year.
The Australians took a tour around Newport Harbor when they returned to port in pitch black darkness. They were greeted with more horns, cannons and cheers as they toured the harbor.
They have been banking on the hope that light brezes would prevail here, giving their extra sail area a chance to work its magic. They first got their wish on Thursday, but the wind went so light that neither boat finished within the 5 1/4-hour time limit and that race was abandoned.
Today there was just enough breeze. The race took a little over 5 hours 5 minutes, 10 minutes shy of another abandonment.
With no heavy air expected on Saturday Freedom asked for a lay-day.Racing will resume on Sunday.