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For once, it's smooth sailing for Cayard

AmericaOne beats Prada by 34 seconds to cut deficit in challenger final to 3-2.

Finally, it was just a boat race in the mishap-marred America's Cup challenger final. And what a boat race it was for AmericaOne.

Skipper Paul Cayard steered the yacht that had been losing expensive sails on a daily basis back into contention with a 34-second victory today, cutting Prada of Italy's lead in the best-of-nine series to 3-2. It was a wire-to-wire win for AmericaOne, which can tie the series Wednesday. More important, the boat and its sails stood up to winds of 15 to 22 knots on the Hauraki Gulf.

There was no prerace collision as in the first race or torn spinnaker on AmericaOne as in the second. There were no injuries or massive equipment damage as in the third race when the United States withdrew with less than one-third of the race remaining.

And there was no penalty in the last minute that forced AmericaOne to make an extra 270-degree turn and cost it the fourth race even though it led all the way.

No, just a competitive race between two finely tuned yachts trying to reach the final round in the quest for sailing's top prize. The winner faces defending champion New Zealand in a best-of-nine series starting Feb. 19.

It was a trouble-free race for AmericaOne, the crew that couldn't sail straight.

In its other 44 races in the elimination rounds, it had broken eight spinnakers, the sail used at the front of the boat when sailing with the wind coming from behind. In the first four races of this series, it had split three spinnakers and had a sail lying on deck swept overboard.

So Cayard had to be relieved when the big lime-green spinnaker filled perfectly as he started the final leg with a 42-second lead.

Unlike Saturday, when high winds reaching 30 knots and wild waves battered AmericaOne in Race 3, Tuesday's conditions were milder as the boats sailed the 18{-mile race covering six legs, three downwind and three upwind.

Cayard had to be careful since he was down to his last mast. His original mast, damaged Saturday, is being repaired and the mast he used Tuesday is his only backup.

Cayard is trying to duplicate his comeback in the 1992 challenger final when he was at the wheel of Il Moro di Venezia of Italy, which trailed New Zealand 3-1. Il Moro won the next four races to reach the America's Cup final, where it lost 4-1 to America3.

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