Alinghi Storms Back After Three-Loss Day

After a difficult day on the water on Thursday, when nothing seemed to go its way and three races went to BMW Oracle Racing, Ernesto Bertarelli's Alinghi team rebounded to score a pair of wins on Friday in the UBS Trophy in Newport, R.I. The first, the 10th in the Pro Driver Series, was a thrilling match race, with Alinghi executing a pass on the first downwind leg and then holding off Oracle for the remaining two legs, the gap between the two boats never more than three or four boatlengths. The win closed the points gap to 9 to 6 in favor of Oracle. Though only two races remain in this contest, the first race on Saturday will be worth three points and the second 10 points and, thanks largely to this arbitrary scoring system, the UBS Trophy will be up for grabs in the final race. The second was much less straightforward. A thick fog south of the Newport Bridge had delayed the first start for 2.5 hours. And even then the race committee was forced to move the course north of the bridge where the wind was stronger and the air clear. Now pressed for time, the two teams agreed that they could only do one more race and that it would be worth two points. With BMW Oracle holding a 2-0 lead in the Owner Driver standings, this meant the final race was for all the marbles since the tie-breaker would go to the victor in the final race. Things started to go awry when Bertarelli, who entered on port, appeared to pick up a penalty in the pre-start dial-up. The boats eventually split and headed for separate ends of the line for the start. Appearing a little gun shy after being over the line by five feet on Thursday, Bertarelli was a second or two late. Ellison, according to the committee, was a second or two early. BMW Racing attempted to clear itself, but the flag didn't come down and the team was forced to dip the line again. This gave Alinghi a huge lead, even with the penalty and Ellison's crew popped out the red flag. Seeing this, and agreeing that there had been an error on the race committee's part, the umpires abandoned the race and decided to re-sail it rather than see it get tossed out in a redress hearing. The second start was clean, but now Mother Nature decided to play her trump card and the fog rolled in as the boats worked toward the windward mark. Oracle won the first cross, but Alinghi was able to work to the right and use the starboard advantage at the windward mark to claim a small lead. This lead held down the run and at the leeward mark the committee decided to shorten the course from five legs to three, making this leg the final one. Alinghi controlled the beat, but BMW Oracle was closing. At the windward mark, Alinghi passed between the mark and the committee boat, leaving the former to port-opposite of what they would've done had then been turning downwind for another lap. (Match racing uses starboard roundings as opposed to the port roundings favored by most fleet races). BMW Oracle initially left the windward mark to starboard, as if they were to round it, and then dipped back down and crossed the line, but flying a red flag. Though skipper Chris Dickson was somewhat cagey at the post-race press conference-saying there was a "difference of understanding"-it did seem that a protest by BMW Oracle Racing was in the works, based likely on the fact that when a race committee decides to shorten course the finish is usually done by passing between the next mark, on the side originally set by the course, and a committee boat. Irregardless of the protest, there was a sense of satisfaction in the Alinghi camp this evening. Thursday, with three tough losses-one due to a downwind pass, one due to a masterful pre-start maneuver by Larry Ellison, and one due to being over the line early-was a bitter disappointment for a team that has struggled all week to escape the cloud projected by Russell Coutts' curious decision to not sail in the regatta and Brad Butterworth's injury. Tonight there were some smiles on the Swiss boat. Racing tomorrow is scheduled to start at 1:30 p.m. Chris Dickson won the coin toss and elected to take a starboard entry in the second race, which is worth 10 points and will decide the regatta.