The weatherman lied today and the cost was dear for Australia in her bid for the America's Cup.
With meteorologists predicting breezes up to 30 knots as a cold front rambled through New England, the Australian challengers selected a heavy weather mainsail to do battle with U.S. Cup defender Fredom Four hours later the battle was over and Australia was vanquished.
"We chose a moderate medium-weather sail," said Freedom skipper Dennis Conner when the front bore through it was weak the wind never topped about 18 knots and Freedom swept to a convincing 3 minute 48 second victory.
The wind gives Freedom a 3-1 edge in the best-of-seven final Cup series. One more win and it's over. That chance will not come until Thursday, however.
Freedom asked for a lay day because of still more weather reports predicting light airs Wednesday followed by stiffer breezes Thursday.
The frantic race to the weather report is symbolic of this Cup series, in which the snow-white challenger from across the glove has proven faster in breezes under about 9 knots and the defender has run away whenever the winds topped 12.
Conner put it this way. "We do prefer a nice old 12-to-16 knot Newport wind."
That's exactly what he had today. When it was over Freedom was so far ahead there was the startling sight of the blue defender reaching off under full sail from Newport harbor while the challenger battled upwind wind with hundreds of yards left to go before the finish.
Flushed with victory, Conner eschewed the traditional tow into port and chose instead to sail in the sparkling afternoon sunshine. He sailed across seven miles of Rhode Island Sound while bowman Lex Gahagan sipped a beer on the pitching prow.
Conner turned the corner into the crowded harbor and sailed halfway around before dropping his jib. It was quite a sight -- the 65-foot racer tearing among the moorings to the acompaniment of horns and cannons and cheers.
And there never was much doubt about the outcome of this race from the beginning. Australia skipper Jim Hardy said the selection of the heavy-weather mainsail on his boat was "unquestionably the biggest factor" in the hammering Australia took. She never challenged in the 24.3 mile race.
We heard over the radio there was 30 knots at Providene," said the soft-spoken, 47-year-old skipper. "We thought, 'Here it comes.' But it wasn't to be. We certainly made a poor decision."
Conner outfoxed Hardy at the start, crossing 13 seconds ahead. The two boats headed off on different tacks, then came aobut and crossed a few minutes up the course. Already Freedom was soaring away.
Three-fourths of the way up the 4 1/2 mile first leg Freedom turned her back and headed off on her own. Normally it is the lead boat's responsibility in match racing to stick with the trailing boat, guarding against a wind shift that might favor the opposition.
But Conner seemed convinced he could simply pull away. "A totally offensive manuever," said one observer.
It worked. He was around the first mark 1 minute 48 seconds in the lead, which is like a four-touchdown lead in the first quarter of football game.
Freedom added more than a minute to that on the first reaching leg, during which Australia lost her spinnaker when it split in two. Freedom's advantage was 3:08 after the second reaching leg and the race began to look like what ocean racers call "a horizon job."
"Give her a breeze and off she toots," marveled Dottie crossley, a veteran marine photographer shooting from the deck of an observation boat in the sparse spectator fleet.
Conner had equipment trouble when the bots turned upwind for the fourth leg. A pin in Freedom's mainsail trimming gear gave way and Australia picked up more than 40 seconds. Once repairs were completed, Freedom finished strongly, as reflected in the final margin.
The commanding nature of the wind was convincing evidence that the Australians' claim of competitiveness in moderate to heavy airs is dubious.
The bend in Australia's bendy mast was almost nonexistent today. The Ausies have been contending that they can adjust the bend out for heavy airs, making the mast the same as a conventional-all-aluminum spar.
But the same problem that plagued the British, who pioneered the bendy mast with their unsuccessful bid for the challenger spot with the yacht Lionheart, appers to be plaguing the Austrailians.
The mast is great when the wind is under 10 knots, but it is a liability at anything over 12. In Rhode Island Sound, there's a lot more over-12 than under-10, particularly in September.