by Bob Fisher
Oracle Team USA wins - Larry Ellison
Jimmy Spithill was confident when he faced the media on Friday. 'We know we can win this thing', he said.
'We are working hard on the boat, making alterations to produce more speed every time we come ashore.' It seems as though his confidence has spread throughout the crew and Oracle Team USA is making what could be the biggest comeback since Lazarus.
OTUSA led around every mark of both races to bring the score to 8 – 5 in favour of Emirates Team New Zealand, and the Kiwis have to win only one race to take the America’s Cup back to Auckland, but that victory is eluding them.
Just why is difficult to pinpoint, but Spithill is proving the master in the pre-starts, a department where he has always shone. He was, once in front at the first mark, impossible to pass. He praised the information that tactician Ben Ainslie and strategist Tom Slingsby are passing to him: 'The breeze was moving about a lot today; it was good to have men of their calibre alongside me.'
The Australian skipper of Oracle Team USA also believed that overcoming adversity had helped the team to develop. He cited the capsize last year that all but destroyed its first boat and then finding in the early races that they had to do something pretty dramatic to the boat, and sailing her, to match the Kiwis.
Barker pointed out that each day the ETNZ design team and the shore-crew was improving the boat: 'They have been flat out too.'
But he will have to sit down with Glenn Ashby, his wing trimmer, and tactician Ray Davies to improve some items of technique and strategy. He must improve his starting and admitted two glaring errors on the second downwind legs of each race, by gybing away when ETNZ was closing the gap.
Previously, Davies’ calls were spot on, but these were totally untypical. 'We also changed jibs between races', Barker said, 'but that didn’t affect the outcome.' One gathered, however, that he was not happy about making the change.
In the first race, Spithill, starting bow-to-bow and the leeward, luffed the Kiwis well high of the first mark, creating a bigger-than-otherwise lead around the buoy and held a growing lead down the run. The Kiwis closed right up, but a perfect lay-line to the windward gate saw Oracle round with a 24-second lead, and from there the American boat was saved from being passed when ETNZ gybed away.
The start of the second race was less complicated and the two boats arrived at the buoy overlapped with OTUSA on the inside. Spithill & Co made huge gains downwind by picking the better shifts and finding greater pressure in the slightly stronger 14-knot breeze to be one minute up at the turn. Upwind the Kiwis halved that lead and at one stage on the run had closed right up to be within 35 metres. Then came the fatal gybe away and the race was over.
Two victories for the team on the back foot, and both skippers believe they can win the 34th America’s Cup.