The comeback continues for America’s Cup defender Oracle Team USA as Emirates Team New Zealand just cannot convert match point to victory with the one extra win it needs. Instead the Americans grabbed two more wins and with them the strutting rights.
From 7-1 up at one stage, the Kiwis went back to their base under the Bay Bridge leading by 8-5 and showing no extra shots in the locker to counter an American team on a roll and improving ever since race four in the best of 17.
The whole thing has coincided with a shake up in the back of the boat brains trust which saw British Olympian Ben Ainslie replace tactician John Kostecki. It seems clear that the chemistry between Ainslie and strategist Tom Slingsby is working much better.
Like Oracle skipper Jimmy Spithill, Slingsby is an Australian. Like Ainslie, Slingsby won his Olympic gold as a singlehander, with no-one to help him and relying on his own talents to read his way up a race course.
Oracle has been sailing better and better, is on a roll, is relishing having its back to the wall. Questions have to be asked why they were not better prepared. They will be forgotten if Oracle stages a spectacular fight off the ropes to win.
ETNZ skipper Dean Barker lost both starts, leaving himself another job of playing catch-up in difficult conditions. In the first the wind was light and also puffy, meaning if either was in a good vein there were huge gains to be made.
Ainslie and Slingsby consistently put Spithill in a controlling position and then simply dominated in the second race to switch considerable pressure on the Kiwis. They also found the all-important extra horsepower of wind pressure, so vital on boats that need only a little extra wind to rocket ahead.
Spithill paid tribute to Ainslie and Slingsby saying: “What a fantastic day. I thought Tom and Ben did a fantastic job. And the boys in the engine room delivered when they came under pressure.” And Monday? “Can’t wait,” he said.
Barker, commenting on the tricky conditions, said: “We just didn’t manage the downwind legs. Make just one mistake and they get strong. It’s right there for the taking. But we didn’t do as good a job as we expected today.
The battle continues on Monday, with two more races scheduled in winds that could be a little lighter. The whole thing was scheduled to finish on Sunday. It will, if the American team continues with its momentum, go through to Tuesday unless Barker can win convincingly on the start line and lead though the first bend.