SAILING : Kiwis run close by arch rivals

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The Japanese, under siege from persistent protests by Team New Zealand, gave the all-conquering Kiwis their first scare as the challengers for the America's Cup resumed racing off San Diego yesterday after a day of postponement.

Before the breeze softened to frustration and lucky dip level, John Cutler, the helmsman of Nippon Challenge, outwitted the TNZ skipper Russell Coutts at the start, leaving him stranded over the line early, attacking with real aggression as Coutts pulledback near the end of the first leg and pulling out a lead of 1min 30sec by the end of the second.

Unbeaten in seven outings, the Kiwis looked like losing, but Coutts played the light and fickle breezes expertly on the third leg to turn the deficit into a 19-second lead. Back came Cutler on the run. In front again, by just nine seconds, went Coutts onthe last beat and added just three seconds for the tightest margin so far.

All the time the fern-emblazoned black hull had a red flag fluttering at the stern to show the intention of pursuing the dispute which the Kiwis have with the Japanese boat. They think that modifications in December constituted virtually a new hull, which would make that their second: and that is the limit permitted by the rules. So the second new hull being shipped from Japan would not be available, but so far the jury has refused to uphold the complaint. Alan Sefton, the spokeman for TNZ, said last night "it is not just us, there is a strong body of opinion out there and we are determined that the matter will be fully heard."

Looking for their first major win in their first outing for their second new boat, the French started well, Bertrand Pace beating oneAustralia's starting and upwind helmsman Rod Davis at the off. France 3 held the lead for the first two legs, but rounding the bottom mark Davis tacked away to the right of the course, picked up a little better wind, and the French were struggling again.

A spirited struggle in the early part of the race by the all-woman crew of America3 had the wind knocked out of it when helmsman Leslie Egnot tried to bump Paul Cayard, again driving Dennis Conner's Stars & Stripes, off their hip. Cayard shrugged his waypast and, despite the wind swinging first to the right by 40 degrees and then back to just north of west, maintained comfortable control to prevent a repeat of the defeat in round one of the Citizen Cup. But Cubed were also protesting a rule infringement by Stripes.

CITIZEN CUP: Round Robin Two, Third race: Stars & Stripes bt America3, 1min 29 sec.

LOUIS VUITTON CUP: Round Robin Two, Third race: Team New Zealand bt Nippon Challenge 12sec; oneAustralia bt France 3, 1: 27; Sydney '95 bt Bayona-Valencia, 2:14.