It was no contest. Pale blue OneWorld wrapped up a 4-0 sweep of Dennis Conner's Stars & Stripes with another flawless performance today to advance to America's Cup semifinals.
The loss should send Stars & Stripes packing, though an onshore legal dispute still clouds the issue. Conner's team ended on a low note on the water today, brushing the last turning mark while launching the spinnaker. The gaffe and resulting penalty closed out any chance of catching OneWorld.
OneWorld trailed for two legs of the first race in this series but roared past and never trailed again. Still, OneWorld skipper Peter Gilmour said it was closer than it looked. "They're great sailors," said the veteran Australian competitor. "At the end of the day, I think it was the time we spent on the water that made the difference."
With half the budget and half the training time of OneWorld, which is backed by billionaires Craig McCaw and Paul Allen, Stars & Stripes looked outgunned.
"Those guys have been practicing for three years," said Stars & Stripes skipper Ken Read, who said his team suffered a blow when its No. 1 race boat sank off California last summer and was not repaired and ready to go again until this month.
OneWorld, with four U.S. sailors, six New Zealanders, four Australians and two Japanese aboard, represents a new order for the event. It joins U.S.-flagged Oracle/BMW and Swiss Alinghi as internationally crewed Cup semifinalists. Italy's Prada is the only nationally oriented challenger left, and even it has a Brazilian and an American in the afterguard.
OneWorld's 23-year-old helmsman, James Spithill, took a slim lead up the first leg after an even start, slowly ground down the New York Yacht Club's dark blue entry in 10- to 14-knot winds and went on to win by one minute flat.
"He's doing a fine job," Gilmour said of Spithill, his unflappable protege. "I've got all my faith and trust in him. As a youngster, he hasn't got his head all cluttered up with family matters and the like."
The sweep improves OneWorld's overall record to 17-7, including an 0-4 quarterfinal thrashing at the hands of Oracle/BMW after OneWorld switched to an older boat. In USA 67, its newer boat, OneWorld is 17-3, second-best winning percentage in the regatta behind top seed Alinghi.
On the same course today, Prada beat Victory's Sweden to complete a 4-0 sweep. Prada and OneWorld next square off in best-of-seven semifinal starting Dec. 9, with Oracle/BMW and Alinghi in the other pairing, assuming standings aren't upended in upcoming legal hearings.
Stars & Stripes and Prada want OneWorld tossed out of the regatta on grounds the newcomers violated Cup protocol and fairness strictures by having design secrets from other teams in hand when they drew up their speedy yachts.
Two judicial panels are set to hear the case -- a five-man Cup arbitration panel and a separate America's Cup international jury. The arbitration panel will sit first, after its far-flung members convene from around the world for the black-tie America's Cup Ball on Dec. 7.
The panel is to hear testimony over the weekend and, Cup organizers hope, issue a ruling by Dec. 8 so semifinal racing can begin on schedule the next day. The panel already penalized OneWorld one point in early trials after the Seattle team admitted indiscretions and asked for a ruling.
Stars & Stripes and Prada sought the new hearing to hear testimony from a New Zealand lawyer, Sean Reeves, who worked for Team New Zealand and OneWorld. Reeves issued a 50-page affidavit last summer citing numerous apparent violations of Cup protocol by OneWorld.
The accusers want Reeves to testify in person but he is under a U.S. court order not to divulge confidential information from OneWorld and may decline.
If OneWorld is disqualified, it would throw the challenger series into an uproar as all five teams ousted up to now could seek redress. International jury chairman Bryan Willis said Stars & Stripes, having been whipped in the repechage, would have the strongest case for reinstatement, but all would be welcome to make their cases.