by Bob Fisher
America’s Cup Day 4, San Francisco. Emirates Team NZ leads Oracle Team USA on Leg 3
Swapping Ben Ainslie to replace John Kostecki didn’t make the hoped-for difference in performance for Oracle Team USA.
The team lost two races to Emirates Team New Zealand with the Kiwi gains made principally on the upwind legs. What is left for the Cup defender?
It would appear that major alterations are to be made to the OTUSA boat, according to skipper Jimmy Spithill. He said that alterations would be made and that it might not leave any time for the team to practice afloat on Friday. And that practice is sorely needed for the team that has only won a single race in seven.
Asked if he had lost hope of winning, Spithill countered: 'If these guys [pointing to Dean Barker and Glenn Ashby] lost from here, just think of that!' He obviously wasn’t, but judging from the racing in races six and seven, there have got to be major changes to the Oracle boat and the way it is sailed if it is to retain the Cup for the Golden Gate Yacht Club.
One thing the American team (with only one US national on board) cannot do is fit a self-tacking jib to the boat. This is certainly proving effective for the Kiwis each time they tack, but Spithill admitted: 'We don’t have the backing structure to accommodate one.'
Oracle proved in the first race that they could still start well. Spithill and Ainslie working in consort with wing trimmer Kyle Langford brought their AC-72 to the line with hardly a whisker between the bow and the line as the gun fired. It was perfection and ETNZ trailed by nine seconds at the first mark.
The Kiwis seemed undeterred and hung on grimly downwind arriving at the leeward gate just 12 seconds down, but, more importantly, they were able to split tacks. Oracle had taken the left hand buoy and headed to the shore while ETNZ went for the right hand mark and sailed towards the cone of tide relief behind Alcatraz Island.
The Kiwis were gaining and at the third cross, Dean Barker, on starboard tack, did a classic match racing dial-down, forcing Oracle to dip further to avoid him – memories of him being the recipient of this move by Brad Butterworth six years ago in Valencia came flooding back.
It worked for Barker this time and once ahead, the Kiwis strode away to round the weather mark 46 seconds up.
The race was, to all intents, over. The downwind shuffling did nothing for the Cup defenders and the challenger crossed the line 47 seconds in front to record their fifth victory.
The seventh race followed hard on that one’s heels and this time it was one-way traffic. Barker and his crew won the start to lead by two seconds around the first mark and stretched another five seconds downwind. Then the supercharger came into play and the Kiwis waltzed up to windward to pass through the gate 56 seconds to the good.
There was nothing Spithill and his afterguard could do – the gap stretched and Emirates Team New Zealand crossed the finishing line one minute and six seconds to the good.
After seven races, the scoreline is Emirates Team New Zealand 6 – OTUSA minus 1. The next four races, if necessary, will be held over the coming weekend.