by Bob Fisher
Oracle Team USA vs Emirates Team New Zealand, Race Day 14
The teams in the 34th America’s Cup are now level – it has been the most remarkable comeback by Oracle Team USA and just as remarkable failure by Emirates Team New Zealand.
The Kiwis have sat on match point for days and watched while the defenders have risen Phoenix-like from the ashes of defeat, much as skipper Jimmy Spithill had predicted.
'We can still win this event,' declared Spithill on the day that ETNZ reached the situation of needing just one more victory to take the Cup to Auckland. It had seemed a proud boast at the time, but with the help of the design and engineering teams ashore to provide better speed and the combination of himself, Tom Slingsby and Ben Ainslie, providing the strategic information, Oracle Team USA has proved its skipper correct.
On day 18 of the regatta (equaling the longest the event has ever gone), the OTUSA team won two races. The first was from a start that saw the Kiwis penalized twice and trailing by 17 seconds around the first mark. Try as they might, and they were exceedingly tenacious, ETNZ could make no impression, but the defenders did not appear to have any speed advantage on any leg of the course.
Just how they should have won the second race will stick forever in the minds of the New Zealand crew. They had won the start and saw Oracle bury her bow as she rounded the mark five seconds behind them. Downwind they lost nothing except for making what proved the wrong choice of mark at the leeward gate. Ray Davies chose to advise going to the right hand mark and sailing for the cone of slacker water (in the flood tide) in the lee of Alcatraz Island.
Ainslie and Slingsby had spotted the tideline further to the left and called for Spithill to go to the other buoy. The 200-metre lead began to evaporate rapidly, and when Barker tacked away from the boundary he would have crossed his rival by 45 metres, but he decided to tack to leeward to protect the right hand side of the course. That was the Kiwis’ second mistake.
Spithill pounced. He put the bows of OTUSA down and the boat leapt on to her foils and in what was little more than an instant, the American boat was ahead. Game over.
Oracle Team USA drew remorselessly ahead to lead by almost a minute at the windward gate. From there, Spithill was able to take it relatively easily, if foiling in excess of 40 knots can be described as easily, to take his seventh win in succession and level the scoreline at 8-all.
It all hangs on the final race, which should be on Wednesday, but Iain Murray, the Race Director did declare before these two races that conditions on Wednesday would be: 'Fierce to frightening, ' but that, now, may not be the case.
The course therefore is set for the decider and both skippers believe they can win – but then, they would, wouldn’t they.