For American fans of America’s Cup racing, these are dark days. Our team is trailing Emirates Team New Zealand (ETNZ) six to zero, which is a historically unprecedented 'slump'. Still, hopes flickered slightly higher yesterday after Oracle Team USA-the Defender-managed to win a critical race that bought the team a bit more precious chronological runway in which to improve their boat and their boat handling.
San Francisco, 14/09/13 34th AMERICA’S CUP America’s Cup Final 5 Emirates Team New Zealand vs Oracle Team USA Photo: Â© LUNA ROSSA/Carlo Borlenghi
Unfortunately, this victory didn’t come through brilliant sailing on Oracle’s part (although they played some smart tactical cards), but rather a rare crew error that almost cost ETNZ much more than a simple race.
By now you’ve seen the gobsmacking video and still photography of ETNZ’s AC72 scratching at the gates of vanishing stability. This error allowed the Americans to sail away in clear air, sans any serious challenge, and cross the finishing line nearly a minute before the Kiwis.
Still, Dean Barker, ETNZ’s skipper appeared cool and calm in the between-races interview-stirred, perhaps, but certainly not shaken.
While American fans were quick to hoist Old Glory high above their heads, hopes of an American comeback ebbed substantially as Barker again won the start of the next race and again beat Oracle around every mark before racing was cancelled due to winds exceeding the USCG-enforced safety limits.
At the post racing press conference, Jimmy Spithill, Oracle’s skipper, tried his best to frame the day’s on-the-water battles as a clear sign that his team can win races, but the fact remains that ETNZ died by their own sword yesterday, not through damage inflicted by Spithill.
The Defender has retooled their boat, truncating their bowsprit (no more Code Zeros for the Americans) and making other less-obvious changes, which legitimately seem to be helping the team’s ability to sail to weather. The breeze is expected to be up for today’s racing, which could potentially translate to more cancelled races. For Oracle, any extra time to work on their boat and to polish their crew work absolutely matters, and should be considered one of the team’s prime sources of lifeblood.
The hard-boiled reality for American fans is that we need to win nine races in order to defend, while the Kiwis simply have to take three races and the Cup goes antipodean. I’m no betting man, but the odds are not looking great for American interests.
Oracle Team USA v Emirates Team New Zealand. America's Cup Day 5 San Francisco. Oracle Team USA skipper Jimmy Spithill was in a confident mood at the race 8 media Conference
Still, one real flicker of hope remaining for Oracle is the team’s never-die, never-surrender attitude. Listening to Spithill at the press conference, it was obvious that this squad has plenty of fight left, but watching them sail the course against ETNZ, especially in the first races of this Cup, it’s obvious that the Defender simply has a slower boat, less tactical boat.
The reasons are manifold, ranging from the fact that they didn’t incorporate a self-tacking jib (which frees up ETNZ’s tactician, Ray Davies, to study the course, rather than spending his time pushing around hydraulic fluid) to their fine bows to their less-stiff platform to their October 16, 2012 capsize, which set the team seriously astern of the Kiwis, training-time wise.
Add up all of the fractions and you quickly arrive at familiar numbers, namely six to zero.
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It will be interesting to see if Oracle emerges from the shed with additional modifications or changes to their crew list. For their part, ETNZ is also still evolving their AC72, but it’s safe to say that their learning curve is far less daunting than the one that Spithill and his team members will be negotiating over the next several days.
May the four winds blow you safely home,