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America's Cup -American hopes linger on - Lady Luck smiles on Spithill

by David Schmidt, Sail-World USA Editor on 23 Sep 2013
AC34 Match / ETNZ vs OTUSA DAY 10 - Race 13 / 34th America’s Cup / ORACLE TEAM USA / San Francisco (USA) Guilain Grenier Oracle Team USA © http://www.oracleteamusamedia.com/
These are truly anxious times to be an American sailing fan. Depending on how you want to look at it, our team is either one race away from loosing the America’s Cup or five races from staging sailing’s biggest juggernaut, but, irrespective of how you hash it, Oracle Team USA is also being treated to some of the best luck ever seen in Cup racing.

The big question now, however, boils down to resiliency: Will skipper Jimmy Spithill and his American-flagged teammates rally for the greatest comeback in sailing history, or will Emirates Team New Zealand (ETNZ), now on match-point, pull an antipodean job on the Auld Mug?

I’m no betting man, but I do question how much longer the inevitable can be postponed due to timed-out races (honestly, the Kiwis were robbed on Thursday), too-much breeze, breeze out of the (slightly) wrong direction and the occasional Oracle win. Obviously, if Spithill has it his way, there will be a lot more of the later, no more of the former, and a chance to race ETNZ skipper Dean Barker in a match-point on match-point contest, but that reality is still five full wins away for the Defender.



Only a week ago the conclusion of the 34th America’s Cup seemed beyond foregone, but now Oracle has at least a flicker of hope. So what has made the Defender so much faster?

The answer here is a refined mix of highly choreographed crew work, a retooled platform (first no bowsprit, then, as the light airs descended, the Code-0 prod reappeared), a (likely) retuned wing, and-if the rumors are true-a constant experimentation with different foil shapes.

The later is especially critical in this Cup, and it’s been interesting to see the designs of both teams (Oracle started with traditional 'L'-shaped foils, while ETNZ opted, initially, for 'V'-shaped boards) converge towards a hybridized middle-ground, with Oracle clearly making the biggest performance gains since Cup racing began.

The Kiwis, for their part, have also been working hard to dial-in their boat, but the simple fact remains that the Kiwis were far more polished coming into this Cup than the Defender, and they simply don’t have the same amount of low-hanging fruit, performance-wise, that they can harvest for their boat.



So are the delays helping or hindering the teams? There’s no question that the shore crews and the sailors are getting exhausted at this point (today will be their sixth day in the row of docking-out their AC72s, which right there represents a huge amount of work), but there’s also no question that this extra runway time is allowing the engineers and designers more tweak-it time.

Oracle specifically seems to be making wide strides here, but it’s also clear that a huge part of sailing AC72s fast involves moding your boat to the day’s specific conditions. Get this right and you’re quick; mode to the wrong wind range, as ETNZ did the other day, and suddenly a fat points Delta on the scoreboard becomes your greatest asset.

Selfishly, the prolonged Cup racing delivers more great racing and more opportunity to enjoy the amazing augmented-reality that Stan Honey and company have added to this year’s broadcasts, not to mention more time to savor the flight patterns of two now-equally matched AC72 on one of the world’s greatest sailing venues. Still, it’s not easy to watch the racing knowing that your team could be one blown wind shift away from loosing sailing’s greatest prize.



The wait might feel agonizing, but it’s got the right amount of drama to be infectious, the right amount of hope to feel American, and the right amount of swagger and excitement to be a (now) proper America’s Cup. Hopefully the wind gods will cooperate today to make the racecourse feel San Franciscan again, and life will be great.

May the four winds blow you safely home,

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