The America’s Cup turned into a genuine contest in San Francisco as defender, Oracle Team USA, scored its first point over what had looked like a comfortably better Emirates Team New Zealand.
The Kiwis had gone three-nil up in the opening trio of races, twice coming from behind, but the fourth saw the American team sail its best race to win by a nerve-jangling eight seconds.
The relief was written all over skipper Jimmy Spithill’s face, as it was on the large number of American fans watching the sailing rather than the 49ers opening their football season against the Green Bay Packers.
It still means that the Americans have to win another race to wipe out their two-point deficit imposed pre-regatta for team misdemeanours last year, so, peculiarly, the scoreline reads Team New Zealand 3 – Oracle -1. 4-0 would have led to a very unhappy debrief.
A better start by Spithill for the first race gave him the chance of the inside track at the first turning mark and for good measure the Australian forced a slow down penalty on the Kiwis which he grew to an 18 second advantage at the end of the run down to the crowds watching both on the shore and at the race village.
He repeated the fast start in the second race with a beautifully timed run to the line and some impressive acceleration.
In the first race of the day it was the first time the defenders had been in the lead in any of the three races but the New Zealanders then settled into making two of their strengths count. Their boat is just a little faster upwind and the crew is better drilled, more skilled when it comes to handling it. They sailed less distance, gained on every move and by the time they reached the top again they were 29 seconds ahead, a net gain of 47 seconds.
They lost just one second on the run to the finish and Spithill commented: “They just slowly got into us with a couple of tacks near Alcatraz. They are still making good gains in the tacks and we are going to have to work a little harder.” But it was engaging in a little tacking duel close to the shore that was their undoing.
The next pair of races is scheduled for Tuesday with both teams grateful for some respite after a hectic opening quartet that has tested both nerves and sinew.