The American yacht Liberty held a commanding 57-second lead (about seven boat lengths) going into the fifth and next-to-last leg. That leg, a 4.5-mile downwind run, has been one of Australia II's strengths in the series, and it has picked up an average of 23 seconds a race there.
Australia II began the leg by zigging to the right. But the Americans refused to duel with the more mobile boat. So the two sailed along parallel courses, the wind about 8 knots, until about midway through the leg.
That's when Australia II went to the right, in a risky maneuver that played on a wind shift. Australia II's skipper, John Bertrand, was obviously trying to take advantage of his yacht's speed while seeking even more favorable wind conditions, leaving Liberty to plow straight ahead trying to protect its lead.
Had Australia II not gotten a break with the favorable wind it would have remained well behind turning for the final lap and likely would not have beaten Liberty.
Australia II's maneuver worked, as the yacht picked up speed, passed Liberty and then turned slightly left for the mark, wresting favorable position inside Liberty.
Liberty was then forced to sail at right angles to Australia II, which had a 21-second lead rounding the fifth mark and heading into the final 4.5-mile leg.
Liberty's skipper Dennis Conner tacked about 47 times in the final leg of the 24.3 mile course. But it was too late and Australia II crossed the finish line 41 seconds ahead (right).