Oracle come back with revived performance in Race 8 while Kiwis come within a hair of disaster before race 9 is abandoned

Despite trailing by seven points, Oracle looked cool and collected this morning at the dock out show. On the water they looked mean and aggressive in the pre-start and dangerous throughout the rest of the race. Even without the drama that was about to unfold, Saturday turned out to be a big day for the Cup and for Oracle as it provided the first signs of a possible turnaround.

By the end of the day it looked likely that the Kiwis would play down their own goal, but the reality was that they had come very close to losing much more than the one point that they were forced to concede.

Team New Zealand came within a couple of degrees of disaster as they came perilously close to a capsize on the upwind leg of race 8. The manoeuvre came as the Kiwis tried to lee bow Oracle three quarters of the way up the beat. During the tack the wing didn’t pop through to the correct side causing the cat to heel dramatically while the crew called for hydraulic power.

As it happens, the reverse angle on the wing that had contributed to the capsize initially appeared to be the very thing that also prevented a catastrophe for the Kiwis as the solid sail acted as a wing as it got closer to the horizontal and started to produce vertical lift.

As the Kiwi cat crashed back down Oracle, who had approached on starboard were forced to tack onto port, protesting and gaining a penalty on the Kiwis. But this was the least of Barkers problems. As the team re-grouped and dusted themselves down Oracle smoked off into the distance to round the mark ahead and win the race by 52 seconds.

But while the focus of this race will be the near capsize the bigger issue is that Oracle has found a new turn of speed upwind. Piece by piece the home team is finding out how to get in front of the Kiwis.

Despite fluffing the start by being too aggressive, weaving around behind the Kiwis, Spithill’s team matched the Kiwis downhill to round just 8 seconds behind at the bottom gate before then taking distance out of the Kiwis upwind. This was the first time we have seen Oracle outperform the Kiwis on this leg of the course and the data backed it up showing Oracle maintaining a higher speed through every tack up the beat.

Anxious not to give the American team any advantage the Kiwis were keen to continue with their plans to race the second race. But would the weather let them? The breeze was building and forced a postponement. Even if they did race, was there any damage aboard the Kiwi boat?

After a short delay, as the wind broke through the upper wind limit, the second race of the day got underway. The early stages of the pre-start looked like a carbon copy of Race 8 as the Kiwis came smoking in on port at 43 knots before setting themselves up to leeward.

Once again Spithill was lining up to pounce from behind, trying to take the hook. But when this wasn’t going to work he tried rolling over the top of the Kiwi boat. But neither worked and once again he started behind, albeit by just half a boat length.

Barker led into the first mark with Spithill just 2 seconds astern.

On the downwind leg Oracle looked fast, and more worrying for the Kiwis, confident as Spithill threw in a dummy gybe to tighten up the gauge a bit more.

As both boats headed into the leeward gate Spithill had managed to get a split on Barker as he rounded the right hand mark with the Kiwis taking the left – another copy of Race 8. If this was the case could the Defenders overtake the Kiwis on the upwind leg?

Seconds later we were denied the opportunity to find out as the race was abandoned as the wind speed broke through the 5min average.

Disappointing as it might have been, the abandonment came as little surprise given the day’s forecast. There will also be no surprise in the fact that Oracle stand more to gain out of the early curtailment of the day. The home team is clearly on a roll having discovered more speed in its boat. There will doubtless be more to come.

“This has injected more momentum into the event”, said Oracle tactician Ben Ainslie. “There are still things we can change to improve. That’s the nature of the America’s Cup.”

Naturally the Kiwis would have preferred the race to continue yet given the dramatic near capsize and the whacking blow dealt to the boat as it landed back on the surface, ditching the second race was a safer option for the Kiwis. Overstressing kit during the incident could have been a failure waiting to happen in the second race. While they’re unlikely to say it, this was a get out of jail card for the Kiwis.

Had they capsized or broken their boat it seems unlikely that the Jury would have given them extra time to repair. Had their damage or capsize been the result of an infringement by Oracle maybe, but simply tripping up would not give them any grace. With two races tomorrow, (rather than a lay day), the points risk was huge to the Kiwis.

“We got as close as you can get to putting the boat on its side,” said Dean Barker after the race. “

As it has turned out, their near miss cost just one point to the Cup holders rather than several and the opportunity for the comeback team to make further inroads into the Kiwi lead.

“I’ve been telling you we can win races,” said Spithill after the race. “The shore team’s worked very hard on the modifications on the boat and now they’ve been rewarded.”

Today, for one day at least, the tables had turned at the post race conference with Spithill able to take the upper hand and Kiwi tactician Ray Davies using a line that has so far been a familiar response from Oracle. When asked what had happened in the near miss he replied, “We will have to go back and have a good look at the data.”

I suspect that won’t be any less nerve wracking than a re-run of the video.

Score so far
Kiwis 6
USA 0 (have won 2 races wiping off their 2 point penalty)

Americas Cup Race 8              NZL         USA
Distance Sailed (km)              21.715    21.301
Average Speed (kts)               29.34       29.92
Max Speed (kts)                    47.02        44.58
Winning margin                     52sec

Racing resumes Sunday 1315 local (2115 BST)
Note: Monday is now a lay day and no longer a reserve day – No racing