by Bob Fisher
Oracle Team USA v Emirates Team New Zealand. America’s Cup Day 3, San Francisco, Emirates Team New Zealand makes an awesome sight as she lead around the final mark, and steps on the gas for the reach to the finish.
On the third day’s racing in the 34th America’s Cup match Emirates Team New Zealand demonstrated a huge advantage upwind to win by one minute and five seconds – the biggest margin between the boats yet. At one time ETNZ was over 1,500 metres ahead of their rival and the boats were travelling at close to 45 knots.
It wasn’t always that way – for the first two legs of the five-leg course, Oracle Team USA was in the lead; not far, but in control. As the two boats jockeyed for the start, Dean Barker took the Kiwis to leeward in order to gain the inside overlapped position at the first mark.
Jimmy Spithill countered by being a tad faster with Oracle as the gun fired and from windward began to pour disturbed air on the Kiwis’ wing rig, thereby slowing them. At the end of the half-mile leg, OTUSA was four seconds ahead.
Downwind there was little in it, but as they rounded the left-hand buoy of the leeward gate, OTUSA, nine seconds in front, attempted a foiling tack – a manoeuvre they had practiced the previous day. But this one didn’t work and they slowed badly before heading for the tidal relief behind Alcatraz Island.
It was just what Ray Davies, the ETNZ tactician might have prayed for. Brad Butterworth a four-time Cup winner said of it later: 'The inmates are running the asylum. With the boundary close to the left, they should have waited.' His indication was that the American team would then have been able to cover the Kiwis.
Davies did indeed advise Barker to carry on to the boundary on the left and then tack. The strategy worked and when OTUSA came in from the right, ETNZ had gained sufficiently to have to dip behind the American boat, and then went all the way to the right-hand boundary before coming about on the right-of-was tack. When they next met, Barker and his crew were well ahead.
Nine seconds down at the leeward mark, ETNZ was one minute seventeen seconds in front at the windward gate. It had all gone sour for Spithill and his team. The heart had gone out of their effort, even though they gained twelve seconds before the finish of this ten and a quarter mile course. So much so that they called for no second race – the only time this team can make that move in this match.
The situation now is that Oracle Team USA has to win ten races before Emirates Team New Zealand wins five to retain the Cup. Was it any wonder that Oracle wanted a break before they next meet a team that has already beaten them on four occasions?