Sailing: Coutts defies winds as OneWorld erase deficit

On the water there was no doubt about the results as Russell Coutts, in Alinghi, carved out a clinical first point at the expense of his fellow Aucklander and Oracle-BMW skipper, Chris Dickson, in their opening best-of-seven semi-final race in the Louis Vuitton Cup. There was a lot more drama before the embattled OneWorld Challenge of Seattle bested Prada in the bottom half of the draw.

Ashore, the shenanigans continued as the organising committee asked when the outstanding one-point penalty against OneWorld should be applied. As some members of the Arbitration Panel which imposed the penalty were in transit to Europe, no one knew whether the score in the OneWorld v Prada race should read 1-0 to OneWorld, or 0-0 as OneWorld had exonerated its penalty, or 1-1 because Prada had been given its credit.

Lewis Carroll would have been given enough in the last week to chuckle over for several months. Which is a disservice to the people who are competing on the water. The display by Alinghi left even the normally ebullient Dickson with little to say except: "We know we have got to do better if we are going to take some points off them."

Too right. Coutts was outmanoeuvred in an aggressive pre-start by Peter Holmberg, paid a price at the start because he wanted the right-hand side of the course, and then controlled the race throughout. In the 16 to 20-knot breeze which supposedly suited Oracle-BMW so well he had an iron grip.

Not so for OneWorld. One of their most experienced, Andrew Taylor, rightly said he was happy with their upwind speed but gave his own boat just six out of 10 for its downwind performance. Prada passed them on the first run only to make a hash of the spinnaker drop and let the American boat through after rounding the mark.

They passed OneWorld again on the second run, but this time the Americans fought back and Prada broke their spinnaker pole. Loads can shoot up to seven tonnes in these situations; this is the fourth pole to have been broken.

Congratulations, then, to the Italians for the wise seamanship of carrying a spare pole. But it was not enough to make up the deficit, even when OneWorld also blew a spinnaker at the start of the last leg. They knew exactly where they were on the Hauraki Gulf. The only problem – apart from a serous vulnerability downwind – is knowing where they stand when they get home.

* An inquest into the death of Peter Blake, who was killed by pirates in the Amazon last December, recorded a verdict of unlawful killing. The New Zealand yachtsman was aboard his Seamaster boat with his crew when they were attacked. The 53-year-old was shot twice in the back while leading a United Nations project to investigate global warming.

LOUIS VUITTON CUP (Hauraki Gulf, NZ) Semi-finals: Alinghi (Swit) bt Oracle-BMW Racing (US) + 1min 11sec (Alinghi lead best-of-seven series 1-0); OneWorld (US) bt Prada (It) +47sec (OneWorld lead best-of-seven series 1-0).

* OneWorld will be penalised one point from their tally for breaking boat design rules.

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