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Sailing

4th delay has Swiss sniping

©Associated Press
February 24, 2003

AUCKLAND, New Zealand -- The America's Cup has sailed into the doldrums.

Race 4 was postponed a fourth time because of light wind on the Hauraki Gulf. The race committee will try again Tuesday (today EST) to get the race off between Alinghi of Switzerland and two-time defending champion Team New Zealand, though the forecast does not look promising.

Four postponements in five days have taken the steam out of Alinghi's march toward history. The Swiss team has a 3-0 lead in the best-of-nine series and is trying to return the America's Cup to Europe for the first time in 152 years.

This could be the America's Cup that never ends, thanks to Auckland's typically irregular weather. Principal race officer Harold Bennett, who has been criticized for calling off races in light wind, said both teams agreed predictions showed little or no chance of a racing breeze.

On Saturday, Swiss syndicate head Ernesto Bertarelli called the race management "a zoo" after the third postponement because of light, shifty wind.

Bertarelli, a biotech billionaire who also serves as navigator, said there needs to be an independent race committee that decides when races start.

The race committee is appointed by the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron, and Bennett is assistant general manager of the RNZYS.

"This is a zoo," Bertarelli said. "I mean, the fact that we're asked if we want to race and we have to say, 'Yes, no.' We were asked (Saturday) if we wanted to race. We were ready, and then the other team comes back and says, 'Well, we don't know, we'll think about it, we're not ready to race now, maybe at 4 o'clock.' What is this?"

Critics contend Bennett won't start races in light conditions because they tend to favor Alinghi over NZL-82.

"Sure, we will get bagged for not doing more to try and get the race started, but I stand by the decision we made," Bennett said Saturday.

Alinghi's sailors say they are ready to go in any conditions, and they are starting to get frustrated.

"We're up 3-0, we've got all the patience in the world, but personally, I think it's bad for the sport," said Josh Belsky of Hood River, Ore., one of two Americans on Alinghi's crew. "Back home, people are expecting to see some racing, and I'm seeing less and less spectator boats out there every day."

Two of the four postponements have come after the sloops have been on the water for most of the day.

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