Sailing: Coutts confident of reaching semi-final

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The Independent Online


In less than a fortnight, three of the seven challenger syndicates for the 29th defence of the America's Cup will pack their bags and go home.

Neither Syd Fischer's Sydney'95, the weaker of the two Australian syndicates, or the Bayona-Valencia club's Rioja d'Espaa, the weaker of the two European syndicates, is going to win a place in the semi-final of the Louis Vuitton Cup.

There is, however, an intriguing battle between Nippon Challenge and the Defi Franais. The decider should be the race between the two on Saturday. The fourth round-robin starts today, each of the seven challengers racing the six others. A win scores five points, so, with three points separating the two boats, one extra win will be enough.

The fourth round of the defenders' Citizen Cup also kicks off with the all-woman America3 introducing their new boat. All three contenders go into the semi-finals.

Team New Zealand head the challenger list and their skipper, Russell Coutts, knows he needs only two wins from six races to guarantee a place in the last four. As he is unbeaten on the water in 18 outings, he can feel fairly confident. So much so, in fact, that he will continue with the boat which has served him so far. He is able to test modifications on his second boat.

His New Zealand rival, Chris Dickson, has only one boat and is more pressured by the lack of time between rounds caused by weather-influenced delays in the racing. Any edge he had is being dulled as the others improve but, in Bruce Farr, he has a designer with a clear programme. He has also been buying new sails.

The only man to take the Cup from the Americans, John Bertrand, is working very conservatively on developing the second of his two yachts called oneAustralia. Which leaves the Japanese and the French, who have seemed jinxed and now have their skipper Marc Pajot's financial affairs coming under the microscope in France.

Both reached the semi- finals in 1992, but neither went any further. The dilemma for the Japanese had been over whether to introduce their new boat, said to be no faster than their present boat, knowing that Pajot's new boat is slowly developing an edge in speed edge over them. They have opted for the new boat.

The problem for the French was whether to introduce their "secret weapon" quadrilateral mainsail, which removes sailcloth area from the less effective centre and transfers it to the more powerful trailing edge. Their wider hull can more easily cope with the extra power which this generates.

CITIZEN CUP Overall standings: 1 Pact '95, Stars & Stripes 25pts; 3 America3 7.

LOUIS VUITTON CUP Overall standings; 1 Team New Zealand 40pts; 2 oneAustralia 33; 3 Tag Heuer 29; 4 Nippon Challenge 18; 5 Defi Franais 15; 6 Sydney '95 8; 7 Bayona-Valencia 4.