The cat was among the kiwis in the eighth race of the America’s Cup as a rejuvenated defender, Oracle Team USA, not only beat Emirates Team New Zealand (ETNZ) but forced the win during what had previously been their bogey upwind leg.
The New Zealanders were lucky to stay upright during an attempt to block an Oracle boat which had made changes including stripping off the bowsprit and tactician Ben Ainslie keeping them in the middle of the course and chipping away at what had been an early deficit. He also read the way in which the wind was oscillating in both direction and strength and kept Oracle in phase with the changes.
The loss by 52 seconds was the worst since ETNZ started racing in San Francisco – except one race they did not finish – and was caused in part by the loss of hydraulic pressure to control the 130-foot wing. To lose a race was as nothing to losing the boat.
At the time Oracle skipper Jimmy Spithill was preparing to hook under New Zealand’s 72-foot catamaran. Instead he had to tack smartly away as the boat reared up in the air, teetered, and then splashed back down.
That allowed Spithill to call for a slow-down penalty, which the New Zealand boat executed immediately, and any hope of winning, apart from an Oracle catastrophe, evaporated for New Zealand immediately.
“The boys sailed a fantastic beat,” said Spithill immediately afterwards. “I think we have taken a big step forward. I thought they were very, very close to going.”
Picking up a phrase used previously by Spithill, New Zealand skipper Dean Barker said: “We’ll have a little bit of a regroup here. We are good to go again for the second race.”
By scoring its second win of the 34 America’s Cup, Oracle scrubbed the two-race penalty imposed for boat tampering in an earlier event and went into second race of the day 6-0 down, needing nine wins to retain the cup before ETNZ secures the final three it needs.
The Kiwis were ahead again in the second race by about 90 metres on the third leg when the race was abandoned because the windspeed was just a little bit higher than the allowed limit. It was surely only co-incidence that a crew rotation saw chief executive Grant Dalton back on the New Zealand boat. The only race lost, the fourth, against Oracle was when he was replaced by Winston Macfarlane.
The next pair of races is scheduled for Sunday, which means that the regatta will continue at least until Tuesday. If Oracle has its way it will be for a lot longer.