-- Prada of Italy and Seattle's OneWorld Challenge are one victory race away from the semifinals of the America's Cup challenger series after winning the third races of their best-of-seven race quarterfinal repechages today.
OneWorld gained on every leg in a stiffening breeze to beat New York's Stars & Stripes by 1 minute 2 seconds, and Prada beat Sweden's Victory Challenge by 51 seconds in a race packed with drama.
The Italian and Swedish yachts crossed the startline close together, Victory in the windward position, and were bow to bow up most of the first beat. Prada tried repeatedly to cross Victory's bow and to take charge of the right-hand side of the course but couldn't gain the clearance to do so.
Victory picked up a faint windshift on the right, the side it had fought so doggedly to protect, as the yachts closed on the top mark. It edged ahead to round the windward mark nine seconds ahead.
Victory led down the first run but Prada loomed just off its transom, riding ominously on a stern wave. The Swedes gained a little when they threw in a false gybe halfway down the run. Prada took the bait and gybed itself.
The Italian yacht then slipped inside Victory and, in the right of way position on the leeward side, was able to slide alongside. Victory, in keeping clear, turned its bow up and broached. The spinnaker halyard was let go and the spinnaker pole smashed on the forestay.
Victory's spinnaker dropped into the sea and, though quickly cut away, made contact with Prada's stern, resulting in an immediate penalty against the Swedish yacht. Prada rounded the second mark 21 seconds ahead.
Victory stayed close to Prada up the next beat -- the leading margin was unchanged at the windward mark -- and showed superb seamanship to fly a spinnaker on the next offwind leg without a pole.
The Swedes narrowed Prada's lead to only seven seconds at the second leeward rounding.
Prada was then able to ease away. It lengthened at the top of the third beat and turned toward the finish line 31 seconds ahead, drawing out by 20 on the final leg. Victory completed its penalty turn as it reached the finish line.
OneWorld again laid the foundation for its win with an outstanding start, crossing the startline nine seconds ahead of Stars & Stripes. It led by 19 seconds at the first mark and increased that lead progressively, by one second on the second leg, 18 seconds on the third, four seconds on the fourth and 19 seconds on the fifth.
A lack of wind in the early afternoon caused a three-hour delay to the start of racing, but the wind built steadily to 16 knots.