Someone asked skipper Francesco de Angelis why he wasn't smiling Thursday after his silver America's Cup boat, Prada, finished the opening round of challenger trials atop of the fleet with a 10-0 record.

De Angelis, a tall Italian with a dry wit, thought for a moment, smiled wanly and said: "I was thinking to the next one."

And well he should. As the first round robin of the budding Cup season concluded in brisk winds and big seas off brooding Rangitoto Island, it left more questions open than answered. With racing set to resume just more than a week from now in round robin 2, when points for a win jump from one to four, skippers and crews have plenty to work on and worry about.

"Obviously we need to work on details," Paul Cayard, the highly rated skipper of AmericaOne, told his crew as they took a tow in from the race course after losing their final race to the New York Yacht Club's Young America because of a breakdown. "Stuff that shouldn't be a problem is. We need to fix it."

AmericaOne and Young America are tied for second at 8-2. Both gave away victories to Prada, suffering last-leg breakdowns in the opening round. First AmericaOne's spinnaker split 300 yards from the finish, letting the Italians by. Then, a shackle on Young America opened during the run to the finish, allowing the spinnaker to fly out in front of the boat, and Prada won by a scant 10 seconds.

Then on Thursday, Cayard handed the win to Young America when he couldn't hoist a mainsail before the race because of a batten problem.

"There's obviously folks out there who aren't ready to go racing yet," Prada co-designer Doug Peterson said. "That's going to change."

Images that will linger from the first round robin of the first Cup season in New Zealand are spectacular but not pretty:

* Nippon bowman Toshiki Shibata taking a clout in the face from a spinnaker pole when a shackle opened unexpectedly. The pole broke his nose and jaw and knocked out teeth; he was transferred unconscious from the race boat as crewmates grimly looking on.

* Stars & Stripes helmsman Ken Read misjudging distance and smashing into the stern of AmericaOne at speed during prestart maneuvers, spinning AmericaOne 120 degrees and breaking the transom so badly a six-foot section had to be replaced before it could race again.

* Black Wednesday earlier this week, when winds piped to 20 knots with higher gusts under slate gray skies and challengers managed only two of eight scheduled races, competitors in the others either dropping out with damage, showing up late or not showing at all.

Meantime, the twin black boats of Team New Zealand sailed all day without incident, testing, training and preparing for the showdown the Kiwis will have against the best of the challengers in February. The New Zealanders couldn't resist flying through the tattered challenger fleet with spinnakers full and drawing, all but thumbing their noses at the competition.

Whether the challengers can use the next four months to catch up with the high-flying Kiwis, who won the last Cup match in 1995 in a 5-0 rout, remains to be seen.

"We've stressed the boats pretty hard now and found out about the stuff that would keep us from competing," said Ed Baird, Young America's skipper. "So many groups just got their boats and got going, so they're learning and the boats are being pushed pretty hard. In a pounding sea, things can surprise you and fail."

The exception so far has been Prada, an operation that for the moment seems almost without flaw. Backed financially by Patrizio Bertelli, 53, who with his wife, Miuccia Prada, owns the Milan fashion house of the same name, Prada has 2 1/2 years of crew training in the bank, a $50 million budget that's double most of its rivals, and lots of style. The boats are the class of the fleet, painted a simple silver with red accents and none of the corporate logos that clutter other sails and hulls.

A positive surprise was the performance of America True, the spare-budget, one-boat campaign from San Francisco that's run by the first woman Cup syndicate chief, Dawn Riley. True finished fourth overall with six wins and very nearly had a seventh when it caught Nippon from 58 seconds behind on the last leg Wednesday and lost by one second.

Dennis Conner's Stars & Stripes is mired in seventh place at 4 1/2 points. Conner, the most experienced Cup skipper in the world, turned the helm for this regatta over to Read, who promptly smashed into AmericaOne.

Said Read later of the team's situation: "We knew as a last-minute program we had a little growing to do. Our ups and downs aren't a surprise. We leave [Round 1] with a bad taste in our mouths because we know we can do better. We'll be a better boat, a better team and a better program at the start of round robin 2."


1. Prada, 10 points.

2 (tie). AmericaOne and Young America, 8 points.

4. America True, 6 points.

5. Nippon, 5.5 points.

6. Spain, 5 points.

7. Stars & Stripes, 4.5 points.

8. Abracadabra, 4 points.

9. France, 2 points.

10. Young Australia, 1 point.

11. FAST 2000, 0 points.