Dennis Conner absorbed a double blow in the America's Cup today, and his soaring ex-protege, San Franciscan Paul Cayard, all but ensured his AmericaOne will advance to the two-boat challenger finals.
Conner's Stars & Stripes was stripped of an earlier win by an international jury for breaking the rules, then was trounced on the water by Prada, a team it must overtake to stay alive in the Cup.
With seven races complete for the leaders in the 10-race series, AmericaOne tops the standings at 6-1 after easily beating America True by 1 minute 16 seconds today, and Prada is second at 5-2 after topping Stars & Stripes by 1:09. Stars & Stripes and Nippon are tied for third with three points, but Conner's team still has four races left and Nippon has three. A string of wins and an unlikely collapse by one of the front-runners still could vault Conner's team up to or past Prada or AmericaOne.
But that doesn't look likely after today's on-water toasting, in which helmsman Ken Read put Stars & Stripes across the line early despite being unpressured by Prada.
"I got greedy," Read said. "I tried to set a trap. They walked into it, but I pulled the trigger three seconds early.
"It's unfortunate that between the protest and today, we've lost our own destiny. I apologized to the guys for getting greedy. At crunch time in all those starts, you just make your move."
The gaffe put him 45 seconds back because Stars & Stripes had to recross the line and restart. It was all the help the Italians needed.
Sunday night, Stars & Stripes got bad news when it was stripped of an opening-day win over Nippon for breaking rules barring teams from building appendages such as rudders in countries other than their own or, for convenience, New Zealand. The rule follows nationality requirements that boats be designed and built in the competitor's home country.
Stars & Stripes's spokesmen said they had misread the rules and only had the rudder made in Sydney because it was cheap and convenient. "Obviously we slipped up," tactician Tom Whidden told an international jury. "We throw our mercy on you."
But jury chairman Brian Willis had no mercy: "Breaking the protocol was a very serious matter and that's why we imposed a full point, rather than a half point or no point." He conceded that "use of the rudder had no significant impact on the outcome of the match," and so did not give the point to Nippon, which lost by 55 seconds.
But all eyes were on high-flying, slate-gray AmericaOne, whose only semifinal loss came because of an unusual gear breakdown in the second race, and Prada, whose crew rallied from a shock when its mast snapped on the third day of racing.
The co-favorites did not disappoint. Cayard, who sailed the 1995 Cup as Conner's helmsman, spotted a wind shift just before the start, sought and won the favored right side of the line and shot in front of crosstown San Francisco rival America True, whose loss today dropped its record to 1-5.