SAILING Whitewash is on the cards for Black Magic

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The Independent Online


reports from San Diego

The Kiwi battle song was given its third full-throated airing yesterday, Russell Coutts calling the tune. Dennis Conner was able to provide only a little background harmony as he faces the unwlecome historical footnote of being not just the only American in 144 years ever to lose the America's Cup, but to do so twice.

It is not a matter of if but when Team New Zealand finish the job of shellacking the strongest sailing nation on earth. At 3-0 up, this is turning into one of the great modern era thrashings in an event that has seen a few of those in its time. The probable day is Saturday, the fifth race of the best of nine.

When Conner lost to Australia in 1983, it was at least 3-4 in the best of seven. Ben Lexcen's wing keel design was considered a breakthrough, as was Conner's comeback in 1987, the last of the races in 12-metre boats.

In the new America's Cup class, Bill Koch's 1992 America3 had an extra gear to beat the Italian challengers. Now Black Magic, designed by Laurie Davidson and a son of San Diego, Doug Peterson, is in a class of its own.

All that can prolong the participation of the Americans is fluky weather or gear breakdown on the 77-foot black beast which is NZL32. All that could keep the cup in San Diego is if both 32 and NZL38 were to sink.

Conner's starting helmsman, Paul Cayard, was again beaten for the favoured right-hand end of the start line by Coutts, who has belied all the scepticism about his skill to outwit an aggressive Cayard.

The crew of Young America then did what they had failed to do in the second race, which was to come straight back at them and set up a tacking duel.

This time Coutts allowed himself to be drawn into the toe-to-toe stuff for just three tacks and then he broke off to sail the drag race for which his yacht is so well suited.

The normal rule of match racing is always to stay between your opponent and the next turning mark, to cover whatever the other yacht is doing - especially on such a capricious track as this, where the wind can be blowing in a different direction and strength just 100 yards away.

It takes some confidence in your ability to see what patterns of wind are coming down the course to leave the opponent to work its own area of the track and perhaps pick up a considerable gain. The Kiwis are that confident. Their weather guru, Bob Rice, has been consistently correct in his forecasts. Therefore, the sails Coutts carries on board are exactly matched to the conditions.

The comfort margin for the Kiwis allows them to take the right foot off the throttle for perhaps half the race, reducing the opportunity for error or breakage. There is a major nuclear sub facility in San Diego. That seems America's only hope.

AMERICA'S CUP Race Two: Team New Zealand bt Young America, 1min 51sec. Team New Zealand leads best of nine series 3-0.