The New York Yacht Club's tortured run in the America's Cup entry ended today, when rival U.S. competitor Dawn Riley sank any chance for NYYC's Young America to make it to the six-boat semifinals in Auckland, New Zealand.
Riley, skipper of San Francisco-based America True and the first woman to head a Cup team, deep-sixed Young America when she announced she would drop out of her last two scheduled races this round, having already secured a place in the semifinals.
That means sixth-place Le Defi Francais, the team Young America needed to pass in the standings to advance, was guaranteed a nine-point win simply by sailing around the course alone in its scheduled race with America True, to lock up the sixth and final semifinal slot.
The six-boat field is now set with three American boats--Paul Cayard's AmericaOne; Riley's America True and Dennis Conner's Stars & Stripes--along with the Japanese boat Nippon, top-rated Italian entry Prada, and Le Defi Francais. The semifinals begin Jan. 2, and all boats will start with a clean slate. The two top boats go on to a challengers' final later in the month, and the winner will face Team New Zealand in the best-of-nine Cup match in February.
Riley's announcement dealt a death blow to the Young America camp, which weathered the near-sinking of its first Cup boat after it snapped in half in strong winds in November. The team, under syndicate chief John Marshall, rallied quickly to ready a backup boat but never got back on track.
Young America was a pre-regatta favorite with its $40 million budget, two boats designed by highly regarded Bruce Farr of Annapolis and a team of top professional sailors under former match-race world champion Ed Baird.
But in final round robin this month, Baird managed only three wins and lost to all the front-runners: Stars & Stripes, Nippon, Prada, AmericaOne and America True.
"We lost one race through a serious tactical mistake," said Marshall, citing a loss to Prada during which the Young America brain trust failed to stick with their speedy rivals and by breaking away gave up a good lead.
"But the program as a whole underperformed starting in November," he said, "And we couldn't put the brakes on in December."
It's the second straight bitter Cup disappointment for NYYC. The club held the Cup for 132 years before losing to Australia II in 1983. Four years later, New York sent a high-budget, high-profile America II team to windy West Australia to win it back, but that group, under skipper John Kolius, also was unable to advance to the semifinals. That was the last time NYYC competed for yachting's top prize.
Marshall, speaking by phone from Auckland after Riley's decision was made public, said he'd sent a pallet of beer around to America True beforehand in hopes of dissuading them from dropping out. But he expressed no bitterness.
"It's blowing hard today, and there's no requirement for them to race," he said. "I can understand not wanting to take the risk. I'm disappointed. It put us out of the regatta."
Said Riley: "What's best for us and our project is to get the get the boat with the mast down, ready to make some changes [for the semifinals]. I don't feel we'll be painted as the villain."
To the contrary, her campaign is a shining success story as America True survived the semifinal cut with the first-ever co-ed crew and a one-boat, low-budget program, a stark contrast to the disappointing showing from high-profile Young America.