In a familiar scenario, the opening day of America's Cup challenger finals was blown out today as strong winds and high seas swept the Hauraki Gulf. It was the 19th cancellation of 55 scheduled racing days since Oct. 1.
A northeaster with winds of 25 to 30 knots brought clear skies after six days of rain. The race committee held Louis Vuitton Cup finalists Oracle/BMW and Alinghi at the docks until just after 10 a.m., then called off racing when the breeze showed no sign of moderating.
Revised wind limits had been proposed for this series to deal with the growing problem of cancellations, which are wreaking havoc on TV and spectator schedules. But Alinghi would not agree to new standards.
Challenger races are not started in sustained winds over 19 knots or under 7 knots. The upper limit is down from 22 knots in the 1999-2000 regatta. Teams complained that racing in higher winds damaged sails and forced construction of boats stronger than needed for expected lighter conditions in the Cup match next month.
Asked why Alinghi opposed changing the upper limit now, skipper Russell Coutts said, "You design sails around the limits and you would probably have different sails onboard if you were racing in 25 knots as opposed to 20 knots of breeze."
The decision delays for a day the rematch of the two top boats from December's semifinals, which Alinghi won handily, 4-0. This series, the winner must win five races to advance to the Cup match against Team New Zealand.
Oracle/BMW, San Francisco software billionaire Larry Ellison's entry, earned a second shot by beating Seattle's OneWorld, 4-0, in a semifinal repechage. Oracle skipper Chris Dickson expects a harder time against Alinghi.
"I don't expect any mistakes from them," said the 41-year-old, four-time Cup veteran. "Against OneWorld, we got ahead sometimes on our strengths and sometimes on their errors. With Alinghi, the only way to gain is on our strengths. They are as tough as anyone is going to be."