by Bob Fisher
Oracle Team USA took the Fleet and Match racing titles - America’s Cup World Series San Francisco 2012 August, Final Race Day
Bob Fisher, one of the world's top international yachting journalists, and certainly the top writer on the America's Cup, is in San Francisco, CA, USA for the sixth round of the America's Cup World Series.
Bob is a multihuller from way back, having won the 1967 Little America's Cup, with Peter Schneidau on Lady Helmsman, and has been covering the America's Cup since 1967.
Dear Diary – Day 5 - America's Cup World Series - San Francisco, CA, USA
It had to be singularly appropriate that the two home teams, Oracle Team USA - Spithill and Oracle Team USA - Coutts met in the final of the match racing on the Bay. They battled out for the bragging rights in front of a crowd now familiar with them after they had produced much of their training here. It provided a preview for the next twelve months when they will work up for the defence of the America's Cup in the 72-footers, the first of which is scheduled to take to the water this week.
That it should come down to a single match is symptomatic of the ethos of the event. A match is at the core of the Cup competition, as stated in the Deed of Gift, and what better way is there to decide the ultimate victor? This is mano-a-mano, the face-off to culminate these five days of competition which began with eleven teams. In the semi-final matches, Coutts defeated last year's match racing champion, Terry Hutchinson with Artemis Racing -White, while Spithill came from behind to beat Dean Barker and Emirates Team New Zealand.
And what a thriller it turned out to be. The Oracle Team can be justly proud of its two crews with only a second separating the two at the finish. Coutts took the early lead when Spithill went too far to leeward in an effort to shut his rival out at the leeward end of the starting line. Coutts went off with a two-boat length lead and was four seconds up at the first mark.
The boats sped, topping 25 knots, downwind and Spithill picked a shift to go slightly deeper so that when they both gybed, he was ahead and to windward of Coutts. Seven seconds separated them at the leeward gate with Spithill going offshore and Coutts heading for the City Front. The latter move paid handsomely and after the first tack, Coutts crossed ahead and rounded the windward gate with a 15 second lead and stretched that to 26 seconds at the end of the run.
Upwind, Coutts and Spithill went their separate ways again and this time Spithill made the better choice and closed right up to be just six seconds adrift. He then went offshore in search of stronger current, went too far and crossed out of bounds incurring a penalty, but held off from taking it until he was ahead at the final turn.
Coutts dived to leeward and just made it to the front as Spithill slowed to take his penalty. The two boats then battled the short leg to the finish with Coutts one second ahead.
The fleet race might have been expected to be an anti-climax after that; it was anything but. The tension was on from start to finish and the place changing in the fleet was reflected in the overall position for this regatta championship Dean Barker and ETNZ was the first to show at the start, but Hutchinson and Artemis Racing - White was to lead round the mark and start the downhill slide in excess of 23 knots.
Behind him came Luna Rossa - Piranha, skippered by Chris Draper and the Nathan Outteridge steered Team Korea. Things were not going the Oracle Team USA's way - Coutts was penalised on the first leg and Spithill was given one on the run. Artemis Racing - White led to the leeward gate, rounding five seconds ahead of Luna Rossa - Piranha with Team Korea the same distance astern.
Draper headed for the City Front where the crowd was dense, and halfway up the windward leg went into the lead and was eight seconds ahead of Hutchinson around the windward mark followed by Team Korea, Energy Team and the two Oracle boats with Coutts ahead of Spithill. Draper went to the shore, gybed and extended his lead to 200 metres and it seemed that he would emerge as champion.
Spithill gradually came into the reckoning, in third place, and the points were such that he needed second place to win the championship. Draper was heard to say to his crew: 'Don't hurt Korea too much, we need them second.' At the time the boats were going upwind at 14-16 knots in the 20 knot westerly.
Luna Rossa - Piranha rounded the windward gate with a four second advantage over Team Korea with Spithill a further ten seconds in arrears. There was only a short downwind leg to the final turning mark and a tiny reach to the finish to come. Guided by local tactician, John Kostecki, Spithill headed for the shore and came charging towards the final turn as Draper rounded cleanly.
Spithill and Outteridge arrived together with Team Korea having to gybe at the mark. Spithill slid alongside Team Korea and when they were past the mark boat, luffed. Outteridge failed to respond sufficiently and paid the penalty. He slowed and Oracle Team USA - Spithill slipped into second place, crossing the line one second ahead of Team Korea. It gave Spithill the overall championship by one point from Draper in Luna Rossa - Piranha, and a match and fleet double for the home team on Speedy Sunday (and for the first time, the sun shone unremittingly, making the day live up to its name).