French in eye of the storm

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The Independent Online
SAILING

BY STUART ALEXANDER

The French theme continued to dominate the America's Cup in San Diego as the team endured a hectic day. The experiment with a new helmsman and tactician was terminated (with Marc Pajot and Bertrand Pace being swiftly restored to control), their third-round duck was broken, and the keel fell off their second boat, causing it to capsize.

The mixture of intrigue, relief and anguish was enough to overshadow nearly everything else, although it did not quite obscure the major psychological blow struck by Russell Coutts' Team New Zealand, who won a close-fought battle with the newest of John Bertrand's oneAustralia yachts and maintained their unbeaten run on the water.

The French tune-up boat, which was badly damged when it was dropped on the quay as it was being launched, lost its keel when all four bolts securing it to the hull sheared. The yacht immediately capsized, but none of the crew was injured.

It was eventually taken in tow, nursed gingerly back to the base camp at Mission Bay. The mast was removed without damage, and the boat lifted out after midnight. An investigation was immediately launched.

The accident happened when the French, who had earlier beaten the Spanish to record their first win, took both their boats out in the afternoon to test what is meant to be a new secret weapon, a quadrilateral - rather than triangular - mainsail, which has a centre panel cut out and material added to the more powerful trailing edge.

Team New Zealand are not yet in need of secret weapons but they were given a hard time by oneAustralia, who at one time narrowed the gap to eight seconds and were never more than 43 seconds behind.

The result left Chris Dickson, second overall, thanks to a win over Syd Fischer while Kevin Mahaney and Pact '95 stretched their lead in the defender trials.

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