Oracle changes gear in Race 1 before the event lights up with Race 2, a spectacular day in the America’s Cup
Having succeeded yesterday, Oracle’s victory in today’s first race saw the home team take two in a row for the first time. OK, the success was on consecutive days, but a second victory was also the first time that the team had got onto the points board with a positive score, as was their demonstrative performance around the race course, never before had Oracle looked so strong.
In every respect, Sunday’s opening match was the biggest indication of a swing to the underdogs that we’ve seen so far. But then came the second race of the day, a turning point for the event as the racing moved to a new level.
“If you didn’t enjoy today’s racing you should probably be watching another sport,” joked Kiwi skipper Dean Barker after the day’s racing.
The race started with a strong performance from Spithill who had entered the start box on port and lined his team up for the leeward position. Barker came hammering into the box in the 19 knot breeze, his sights set on getting further to leeward of Spithill and gaining the hook.
But Spithill was having none of it and made the Kiwis pay for their nerve by holding them up to weather as the starting gun went. Only when Spithill was ready did he pull the trigger. And when he did, Oracle fired out of the starting box leaving the Kiwis trailing in their wake.
By the first mark Oracle was 4 seconds ahead. By the bottom mark Oracle had shown serious pace once again, flawless gybes and spot on tactics to round the leeward gate 18 seconds ahead. Not only that but Spithill, aided by tactician Ainslie, had set up for the favoured right hand side of the course where the ebb tide was running stronger.
Looking over their shoulders occasionally was enough to make sure that they covered the Kiwis up the beat while maintaining the favoured side of the course. Another perfect execution of tactics which increased their lead once again, this time to 33secs by the windward gate.
On the way upwind Oracle had also demonstrated how much better its tacks are, but also how confident and smoothly they can foil exceeding 30knots at times.
On the downwind leg the Kiwis stood little chance of catching Oracle and they didn’t. Oracle crossed the line 47 secs ahead.
Race 9 was a game changer, but as we discovered shortly after the race, the match could have taken a very different course.
“I want to give credit to the shore crew today,” said Spithill. “Shortly before the race we had some rudder damage and one of the shore crew guys had to come aboard to fix it. I think we must have hit something while we were training.”
So, while one point on the board is still a long way off an overall win, there was no doubt that the mood had swung in San Francisco. The Cup had turned another corner. But there was more to come.
The second race of the day was to provide even more dramatic racing as the game jumped up to yet another new level of high speed, close quarters action.
The battle started with both boats hitting the line on the nail, the Kiwis to leeward, Oracle to windward. As they drag raced to the first mark, screaming along at 40knots just a few metres apart, the Kiwis hung onto their inside overlap by a matter of millimeters, bagging the inside berth as both boats turned downwind. It was a crucial move, placing the Kiwis ahead by 2 seconds.
On the downwind leg Team New Zealand kept their cool to round the bottom gate 11 seconds ahead as each team picked opposite marks.
On the upwind leg Oracle was nibbling away at Team New Zealand’s lead but the real drama came two thirds of the way up the beat when Oracle had closed the game up sufficiently to come head to head with the Kiwis. Although Oracle was on port for the first meeting Spithill ducked the Kiwis to set themselves up to come back on starboard on the next tack.
Barker and his tactician Ray Davies knew this was in store and tacked to position themselves for the right hand mark as you look up the course. But knowing they would have to duck the Kiwis, headed up to slow down while ensuring that they could get onto the layline when they bore away, a brilliantly judged manoeuvre. When the boats came back together the Kiwis could take their right hand mark with Oracle taking the left hand buoy. Both boats rounded within a second.
Along with many other aspects of the 34th Americas Cup that have produced surprises with each day, the level of competition at the top end of the race course was something completely new. The battle was now on the run, the first time that we had seen a true fight for the lead.
Again the pair exchanged crosses at closing speeds in excess of 50knots. But it was the final cross that defined Race 10 as Spithill approached on port. Despite talking about gybing just in front, Spithill decided to slow down and cross astern of the Kiwis to take the right hand side of the course in the hope that slightly stronger breeze or a beneficial shift might win out.
But the Kiwis had got in phase with the shifts perfectly and held their lead through to the finish, winning by 17 seconds, a margin that did little to justify this high speed needle match of a race.
Talking after the race Oracle’s tactician Ben Ainslie describe the whole event as, ‘I can honestly say this is the most fun and exciting sailing that I’ve ever been involved with. This is an incredible series tp be a part of.”
The Kiwis need just two more wins to take the Cup, tantalizingly close, just like the racing.
Score so far – Best of 17
USA 1 (have won 2 races wiping off their 2 point penalty)
America’s Cup Race 9 NZL USA
Distance Sailed (km) 21.474 21.000
Average Speed (kts) 31.32 31.63
Max Speed (kts) 42.54 42.52
Winning margin 47sec
America’s Cup Race 10 NZL USA
Distance Sailed (km) 21.872 21.797
Average Speed (kts) 32.35 31.76
Max Speed (kts) 43.01 44.98
Winning margin 17sec
Racing resumes Tuesday 1315 local (2115 BST)
Monday is a lay day and no longer a reserve day