AC34: Baited breath and pregnant insights engulf San Francisco

AC34 Match: Oracle Team USA vs Emirates Team NZ - Day 3, Race 5
Speculation as to what the heck happened to Oracle Team USA during Tuesday’s America’s Cup racing loom large here in San Francisco, as the rumor mill chugs out 'insight' after 'insight'.

While much remains definitively unanswered, the basic facts are that the American-flagged boat suffered a psychological meltdown and opted to play their 'postponement card' to avoid a second scalping on Tuesday, and to buy a bit more time to regroup and reconfigure their boat.


According to skipper Jimmy Spithill, all options are on the table for the American as they try to find their pace against a clearly faster and tighter squad of sailors, Emirates Team New Zealand (ETNZ). In Tuesday’s post-racing press conference (trust me, you were very happy NOT to have been in Spithill’s seat), the super-talented Australian skipper did a masterful job of disarming numerous bombs that were verbally lobbied his way, including direct questions regarding job security for the entire team.

James Spithill - Helmsman/Skipper Oracle Team USA - 34th America's Cup


I spent several hours yesterday afternoon watching Oracle buzzing around an otherwise empty racecourse (ETNZ wisely opted for a day of boat repair and rest), and it was dead obvious that the team is training and trying hard to get back into this game, both physically and psychologically. From my vantage point, it looked as though Oracle was trying out different headsails and possibly different foil configurations, and there’s no doubt that the team was heavily focused on improving their foil-to-foil maneuvers.

AC72s sail seriously fast, and I was far removed from the action, but photos have since emerged clearly depicting Sir Ben Ainslie-the most decorated Olympic sailor of all time-standing in for John Kostecki, Oracle’s regular tactician.

Kostecki, it should be noted, is one of the greatest sailors ever, having won an Olympic medal, the Volvo Ocean Race and the America’s Cup, plus he’s also an SFO native.

Close up of Oracle Team USA on day 3 during race 5 of the 34th America's Cup


Is this a case of changing horses in midstream? That depends on Oracle’s lineup for today’s racing.

The team has already suffered greatly (ultimately, at their own hands) as a recent International Jury decision expelled the team’s primary wingsail trimmer, Dirk de Ridder, from this Cup, leaving Oracle’s primary engine in the hands of Kyle Langford, a 24-year-old Australian.

According to Spithill, Langford is doing an amazing job, but there’s little question that the change was a tough one for the team to absorb.

Spirits around the America’s Cup Park are either running hot or cold, depending on one’s allegiances. Kiwi fans are clearly enjoying their stay in San Francisco (it helps when you’re dramatically winning), while Oracle fans are noticeably quieter and more subdued than they were last weekend.

And while no one is writing off this Cup as a done-deal, the dock-talk questions and speculations are pregnant and cutting.

Oracle Team USA, race five on day three of the America's Cup 34. San Francisco. 10/9/2013


The breeze is considerably lighter today than it was on Tuesday, with forecasts calling for patchy fog and a westerly breeze that could top out at around 12 knots. Given that the American-flagged boat seems to sail better in the heavier breeze, today could prove to be one of the more decisive days of this entire Cup cycle.

May the four winds blow you safely home,
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