29 February 2000
Race Schedule Altered

Race 4
of the 30th defence of the America's Cup has been rescheduled for tomorrow after being cancelled for the second time in the last three days. With the racing behind schedule and a 10- to 15-knot sea breeze forecast for tomorrow, the event organisers, competitors, sponsors and all television broadcasters agreed to race on what was to have been an off day, rather than wait until Thursday.

"To that end, there's been a lot of delicate negotiation to see if we can sail today's postponed race tomorrow," said Principal Race Office Harold Bennett. "Both teams wholeheartedly agreed to get out and do some racing. "As you've all seen, we've had some good days when we're not sailing and today another day with no breeze when we should be sailing," he added. "But the prospects from here are looking a lot better."

A tropical depression is moving toward Auckland, and the Wednesday afternoon forecast calls for east to northeast winds of 10 to 15 knots. On Thursday, the forecast is for east to southeast winds rising to 20 knots, with heavy rain possible.

Team New Zealand leads Prada 3-0 in the best-of-nine series, which began 10 days ago. If the Kiwis win races tomorrow and Thursday, they retain the Auld Mug. But if winless Prada pulls a victory out of the hat, the races would continue at least until Saturday, when the light southwesterly conditions are expected to return.

Today Bennett reasserted that he's unlikely to start a race if the breeze is under seven or eight knots, or if the breeze is shifty and unstable. Friday is still scheduled as an off day, but if racing is cancelled tomorrow or on Thursday, race officials will consider racing on Friday.

With no race since Saturday and only one race in the past week, Bennett acknowledged that the delays risk making the event boring and bringing a loss of public interest. "You're right, it's getting boring. We're getting bored out there, too," he said. "I think it's a problem. We want to race as much as the sailors do."

Nonetheless, Bennett, who grew up sailing on the Hauraki Gulf, defended New Zealand's decision to hold the races at this time of year. "This is the time of year we always figure is the best to go sailing," he said. "February has always been the best time. We generally get a lot of sea breezes. But the weather pattern we're experiencing this year is a little different to what we've seen for a large number of years," he explained. "So I wouldn't say it's the wrong time of year. We've just struck a bad patch of it."

Changing the rigid racing schedule was not easy. Bennett said phone lines were buzzing all around the world for the past two days as not only the competitors but event organisers, sponsors and television broadcasters discussed the matter. The problem with altering the schedule, he said, is that contracts with the various rights-holders of the event had to be taken into consideration. He explained that Alan Sefton, executive director of Team New Zealand, initiated the negotiations on Monday after racing had been cancelled Sunday for the third time and prospects for racing today appeared dim.

The format of scheduling just two races on weekdays was done to accommodate television. That allowed for two-thirds of the races to be on weekends, when more viewers are expected to watch the races. But that inflexibility resulted in problems for this year's event because so many races have fallen on days when there has been little or no wind.

-- Larry Edwards, Quokka Sports