Sailing: Kolius enters the high pressure zone

Andrew Preece sees America's Cup challengers feel the heat
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The Independent Online
THE PAST week has been a time for drastic measures out on the Louis Vuitton Cup racecourse as the 11 America's Cup challengers completed the second of three round-robins in the unpredictable waters off Auckland.

While the leaders cruised easily into the final period of trialling and testing before the defining third round, after which five teams will go home, the scrabble at the cut has reached intensive proportions.

John Kolius made the ultimate commitment to the Hawaiian Abracadabra cause when he relinquished the helm in an attempt to improve his team's ailing form. Since Chris Larson took the wheel and Kolius stuck his head out of the boat in a more tactical role, the team have showed more promise and even led the golden-boy Prada crew before the Italians finally restored normality and went on to win. Kolius will be hoping for much more from his second boat if the team are to move the two places up the standings needed to make the cut next month.

Sadly for Kolius it is familiar territory: the last time he was running an America's Cup team of his own was back in 1987 when he represented the stuffy New York Yacht Club and humiliated their members by not making the semi-finals in Fremantle.

The New York Yacht Club are facing humiliation once again unless Ed Baird and his Young America syndicate can turn round the poor run of form precipitated by the near-sinking of their first boat a week and a half ago. The end of the round could not have come quickly enough after they were forced to commission their second boat earlier than they wanted. They withdrew from two races and suffered two defeats as they gingerly coaxed their valuable asset around the course. The team that were second behind Prada at the end of round one are now perilously close to the relegation zone in sixth place.

But if Young America are struggling, they will take heart from the fact that they have still won more races than they have lost, a statistic that eludes all of the players beneath them. The Spanish, one place behind Young America, led the second-placed America True during their final race but could not eventually prevail. They, like the Hawaiians, will need more speed if they are to make it past Christmas.

In truth the Spanish and the Hawaiians will be the only teams in the bottom half who will be agonising over extending their hotel bookings. The French are simply slow and will need a miracle, while Young Australia and the Swiss FAST 2000 are surely without hope.

And as the impoverished contenders contemplate Christmas at home, salt is rubbed into their wounds by the appearance out on the water of others with more luxurious budgets.

While Paul Cayard was out dishing defeat to Young America yesterday, his B-boat crew were putting a brand new USA 61 to the test. Cayard, whose AmericaOne team lie in fourth place behind Prada, America True and Team Dennis Conner, is said to be expecting much more from his new boat.

The next question is when will AmericaOne, Prada, Nippon and Abracadabra decide to introduce their new boats and whether, when they do, the single boat America True and Team Dennis Conner teams will be able to hang on to them.