FREMANTLE, Australia — Near-gale winds up to 28 knots buckled the British mast, knocked a French crewman overboard, ripped sails and caused gear breakdowns in the America's Cup challenger trials Thursday.
Most of the new 12-meter yachts were built for heavier conditions than previously encountered at Newport, R.I., the site of all cup competition since 1930, but daily pounding on the Indian Ocean is taking a toll.
Some boats have been plagued by repeated problems, but others have held up well. Although Eagle, for example, has won only 7 of 17 races, it hasn't suffered any significant equipment failures.
Eagle was beefed up with heavier gear when it arrived in Fremantle, and Thursday, for the second day in a row, the Newport Beach entry merely had to complete the 24.5-mile course to win after its opponent withdrew.
Eagle was leading Heart of America by 22 seconds on the sixth of eight legs when the Chicago boat broke its running backstay winch.
Harold Cudmore on White Crusader had worse luck. The British skipper led San Francisco's USA by 36 seconds around the first mark, popped his spinnaker and then saw the $100,000, 90-foot mast bend at the spinnaker pole, forcing the crew to quickly lower the expensive sails to prevent further damage.
The syndicate tender had to tow the stricken yacht off the course, and Tom Blackaller had the victory. White Crusader officials arranged to have a refined version of the mast flown in, but it will not arrive until later this month.
Cudmore was left with only the mast on his trial boat, nicknamed Hippo, to complete the crucial second round-robin series.
In other racing, Dennis Conner's Stars & Stripes posted an impressive 5-minute 15-second victory over Italia; the New York Yacht Club's America II kept on winning with a 3:41 trouncing of Canada II; and New Zealand's KZ7 held onto the first-place tie with a 5:19 defeat of last-place Azzurra.
In a battle pitting brother against brother, Marc Pajot's French Kiss left Yves Pajot trailing by 4:01 at the helm of hapless Challenge France, despite having to circle on the third downwind leg to recover overboard bowman Albert Jacobsone, who was unharmed.
New Zealand's controversial fiberglass KZ7, which was superior in the lighter winds of the first round, also reveled in the heavy weather, and co-leader America II proved the value of more than two years of training in the Australian conditions.
Eagle was scheduled to meet Stars & Stripes today in its most important match of the trials to date.
Conner had said between rounds that Eagle was finished, but the right combination of results today could jump Eagle from eighth place to fourth.