Big winds and multiple gear breakdowns threw America's Cup challenger trials into confusion today as competitors asked for and received delays of minutes, hours and, in one case, a whole day.
Two boats dropped out of the round-robin before their final races, leaving their rivals to sail around the course alone, and three others broke down before the start when breezes topped 20 knots and whipped the Hauraki Gulf into foam-capped rollers.
When results were in, the New York Yacht Club's high-flying Young America had absorbed its second loss of the season, trailing Stars & Stripes across the finish by miles with a good reason: Young America had to pull out before the starting gun to fix mast problems, then start the race 28 minutes late.
Meantime, Dawn Riley's San Francisco-based America True nearly scored the comeback of the season, rallying from 58 seconds behind Nippon at the last turning mark to lose by just one second, the closest finish in the Cup trials so far.
All this played out on a dark and stormy day that forced race organizers to delay starts by two hours, then further delay them when Young America, Nippon and America True all asked for and were granted time to fix breakdowns before their starts.
All the drama bodes badly for the challengers who, as they worked to repair their broken boats, watched the two new Team New Zealand defender entries sail smoothly by, then use the day to their full advantage testing sails and tactics without incident.
Two challenger teams announced they would drop out of racing prematurely to begin preparing changes on their boats to be more competitive for Round Robin Two, which starts Nov. 6. The winless Swiss team FAST 2000 and the French Le Defi Francais (2-6 in the first round) skipped their last races today.
And Paul Cayard's AmericaOne, with just one, 17-second loss to Prada so far in the regatta, was granted an extra day to finish repairs on the transom, which was smashed by Dennis Conner's Stars & Stripes in racing Saturday.
Cayard's crew chopped off a six-foot-long section of the stern and put it on display as "The Ken Read Bonehead Trophy," in honor of Conner's helmsman, Read, who bore off at speed during prestart maneuvers Saturday and T-boned AmericaOne, hitting the stern section so sharply the carbon fiber skin cracked from one side of the boat to the other.
A jury later assessed Stars & Stripes a half-point deduction in overall scoring for the mistake. Cayard angrily pushed his damaged boat around the course and won by a minute, but later said he would have been wiser to quit and head for the repair yard.
AmericaOne was granted three days to replace the damaged section and its final day of racing was put on hold. On Tuesday Cayard won an additional day to make sure resins and glues have time to bond properly. It pushed back his last races until Thursday, when AmericaOne faces Young Australia in the morning, then squares off against archrival Young America in the afternoon in a matchup keenly awaited by both teams.
But the additional delay was not welcomed by other teams, particularly those waiting to start reconfiguring their boats for the next round-robin. Under the rules, no one can make changes for the next round of racing until the current one is finished.
"We're very disappointed that one competitor's thorough boat repairs have delayed racing and delayed other teams' plans," said Riley, who is eager to start work to improve America True's speed upwind. "We just want to make our boat faster and this isn't helping."