-- They have won in heavy winds, won in light winds and won again today in moderate winds. Is the America's Cup headed to landlocked Switzerland? It looks that way.
For the third straight time, Swiss Alinghi, with a half-dozen former New Zealanders leading the charge, dispatched Team New Zealand to go up 3-0 in best-of-nine Cup finals. Never in the 152-year history of yachting's premier event has a team rallied from 3-0 down to win.
Three boats -- two defenders and a challenger -- have managed to come back from a 2-0 deficit, which gave 3.9 million Kiwis something to hope for as the two boats took to the water this morning under leaden skies and spitting rain.
But TNZ's young, inexperienced crew made a bad tactical choice at the start in winds of 12 to 17 knots and fell behind by up to seven boat lengths before clawing back into contention.
The defeat by 23 seconds after a dispiriting loss on opening day when their boat broke down, then another on Sunday when Alinghi rallied from behind to win by seven seconds, means the Kiwis must win five of seven to hang on to the Cup.
For Alinghi, which has compiled a 29-4 record since October, to lose five of seven at this point looks beyond the realm of possibility, barring a major breakdown.
Fellow Kiwis cheered their team of 15 New Zealanders and one Aussie out to the race course from spectator craft today with all manner of optimistic slogans: "Do 'em Dean," said one aimed at beleaguered, 29-year-old rookie skipper Dean Barker. "Staunch and True," said another.
But in the end, skilled former TNZ members on the opposition undid them.
Alinghi tactician Brad Butterworth's last-minute tactical call during prestart maneuvering was all the Swiss needed as he sent skipper and fellow ex-TNZ member Russell Coutts to the right side of the line as the gun sounded, while TNZ went left.
The split paid off instantly as the wind veered and Alinghi rode a stronger breeze to a commanding lead of nearly 180 meters.
"That was a good race for us," said Coutts, who won the Cup twice for New Zealand before moving to Switzerland to become a challenger. "The most significant call was from our weather team, making the call to go right."
The Kiwis came back in choppy seas and moderate breezes and were impossible to shake all day. Barker patiently chipped at the lead, which was 28 seconds at the first turning mark, but never stuck his nose in front.
Barker knocked eight seconds off the advantage down the second leg, another three on the third and two more to trail by just 15 seconds at the fourth turning mark, two-thirds of the way through the 18 1/2-mile race. It was beginning to look like a rally till Alinghi stiffened to reopen the gap.
The gray-haired Butterworth was almost perfect in tactical calls all day, giving up a little of the lead only when he needed to in order to stay in close contact with the foe, then stretching at the end when he needed a cushion.
"I still think the boats are really even," said Coutts afterward. "We just have to outsail them another two races."
In close maneuvering, Butterworth called a clever game of loose cover, generally positioning Alinghi between the rival black boat and the next turning mark but declining to match the trailing Barker's every move.
"The reason he'd do that," said British skipper Ian Walker, watching from a spectator boat, "is if he thought the Kiwis had a little speed edge."
Indeed, Alinghi is not without disadvantages. In Sunday's light-wind race, the Swiss learned matching the Kiwis tack for tack did not pay. They lost distance with the tactic and discarded it.
"With their hula [underwater hull appendage] and long ballast bulb at the bottom of the keel, we thought they'd be slow turning," said Alinghi crewman Josh Belsky. "We put that myth to rest in a hurry."