New boats may hold sway

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The Independent Online
SAILING: Half the qualifying races for the semi-finals of the 1995 America's Cup have been completed with the late finish of the second round-robin for both the Citizen Cup for defenders and Louis Vuitton Cup for challengers.

Kevin Mahaney's Pact '95 and Dennis Conner's Stars & Stripes are neck and neck in the defender series, Russell Coutts' Team New Zealand is the clear leader among the seven challengers and, because the points are weighted to the final two series, there iseverything left to play for. By now the pecking order would generally be established - and to some extent it is among the challengers.

But the Kiwis, John Bertrand's oneAustralia and Nippon Challenge all have new boats to introduce, and Chris Dickson has major changes to make. He has been carrying a reduced-size mainsail, indicating that anything bigger could give him steering problems and that, as he has had bigger mainsails built, he plans to reconfigure with a heavier keel.

The French were again disappointed. Having introduced their second new boat in a hurry because of losing all but one of their races in the first round- robin, they now have to settle down. Three wins and three losses in the second round-robin is a good enough base, but they need to be up to 4-2 in the third and fourth and that means beating two of the top four.

Behind Coutts, John Bertrand is comfortably in equal second place without appearing to have set the world alight. He is sharing the spot with Dickson.

Without their new boat, the all-woman crew of America3 can legitimately blame their trailing place in the defence trio on outdated equipment. They know that Pact '95 are having to overcome hiccups in their development programme caused by gear failure andthat, like everyone else, the over-run of the second round-robin has cut the time available for change and testing.

It now seems unlikely that the new America3 boat will be ready for the restart on 14 February, so the women will have to soldier on, preserving morale, taking the luck which the fickle San Diego winds can offer, and being ready to pile on the pressure assoon as the new boat will allow.

Then there is an apparently very relaxed Dennis Conner. At the moment Stars & Stripes does not behave like a rocket ship, but further major modifications are on the way and his sail programme looks very tidy.

LOUIS VUITTON CUP (Challenger elimination series; San Diego): Tag Heuer Challenge (C Dickson) bt France 3 (M Pajot) 3min; Team New Zealand (P Blake) bt Rioja de Espana (P Campos) 20min 50sec; Nippon (M Namba) bt Sydney '95 (S Fischer) 32:03. Standings atend of round 2: 1 Team New Zealand, 16pts; 2= oneAustralia, Tag Heuer Challenge, 13; 4 Nippon Challenge, 10; 5 France 3, 7; 6 Sydney '95, 4; 7 Rioja de Espana, 0.

CITIZEN CUP (Defender elimination series, San Diego): Pact '95 (K Mahaney) bt America3 (L Egnot) 3:02. Standings: 1= Stars & Stripes, Pact '95, 9; 3 America3, 3.