Two more incredible steps in the Oracle comeback while the breeze does its best to shake things up
Could this be the biggest comeback in sailing? As Oracle Racing places its first two consecutive points on the board in one day of racing, the home team’s performance is starting to look pretty powerful. Over the last four days Oracle has taken four wins in a row and have won six out of the eight races. The scoreboard now reads 8:5 but in terms of wins on the water, (remember the two point penalty), the score would read 8:7. Little surprise then that the pressure is building rapidly here in San Francisco.
The 34th America’s Cup has turned into the match of the year and possibly the match of the America’s Cup, ‘period’, as they say over here.
At the post race press conference the atmosphere along the top table was as split as the two teams’ performance on the water. On the right Dean Barker and his wing man Glenn Ashby, quiet, focused and outwardly confident, but presumably stewing inside at another missed opportunity.
“We have every belief that we can do this,” said Barker on several occasions. “We’ve been in some tight spots before and had to bounce back from some sticky situations. Tomorrow we will go out and make sure we don’t make mistakes.”
On the left, Spithill and Ainslie, team tough, taking every opportunity to deliver punchy messages of solid belief and universal support in an attempt to try to break the spirit of their opponents.
“I said we had a challenge, I said stranger things have happened in sport,” said Spithill, looking more like a boxer every day. “But now we have the city and the nation behind us, the support flooding into the team is huge and its having a big impact on the guys.”
To have the comeback king on his side is clearly bolstering Spithill’s position and confidence, but in turn Ben Ainslie is pointing towards Laser Olympic Gold medalist Tom Slingsby as his tactical/strategy buddy. However you look at it this trio is strong and their boat is looking seriously quick upwind when the breeze gets up.
So after a fortnight where all of us feel like we know less and less about what might happen next, what we do know is that; 1) The Kiwis still only need one win and 2) that the Cup will end no later than Tuesday if it goes all the way to the wire and the weather doesn’t trip us up.
Ah,…. well maybe we don’t know that much after all.
Here’s what happened today.
With the breeze hovering in the mid teens, the early stages of Race 14 appeared to follow a pattern we’ve seen before with the Kiwis to weather and Oracle to leeward as both boats hit the line on the gun. As the pair careered to the first mark Spithill luffed Barker to maintain control as the pair took a wide track around the mark.
On the gybe back, another luff from Spithill as Barker tried to roll over the top. But while it looked like nip and tuck between the pair, the light and puffy conditions showed signs from the start that this race was going to be more about hanging in with the breeze.
By the bottom mark Oracle had stretched its lead to 300m to round the bottom gate 24 seconds ahead.
On the upwind leg the breeze had dropped to 12-14knots and the game started to close up once again. By the time the pair reached the mainland shore the Kiwis had recovered to striking distance of Oracle, so close in fact that they had to duck the American boat’s transom on one cross.
But Barker’s port tack took them back out into the tide and the advantage swung back to Spithill.
The top of the windward leg was the next crucial part of this race as Oracle sailed high, squeezed up to the Kiwis track before tacking over onto port to take the left hand side of the course where strategist Tom Slingsby had seen some more breeze. The move was a risky one as it committed Oracle to two tacks into the top mark and a port tack approach to the Kiwis one tack and starboard lay. But the trick worked and Oracle rounded ahead by 15 secs.
But still the race wasn’t over.
Oracle stretched its lead to 300m once again but just as Kiwi hearts were sinking, so Barker and Davies hitched a ride with some more breeze and closed the gap to less than half a boat length.
Choosing to gybe away to run around the outside rather than getting locked into a boat on boat battle seemed like the right call for the Kiwis but when they gybed into a vacuum rather than breeze Oracle’s lead opened up once again to a healthy margin.
This time it really was over as Oracle crossed the finish line 23 seconds ahead.
Another dramatic and nail biting step in the incredible Oracle comeback had happened. The score now sat at 8:4.
If you turned down the sound on the commentary the second race of the day looked much like the first with the Kiwis set up to windward of Oracle as they approached the line. This time Barker was slightly advanced but Spithill kept the pace on once again and held his competitor out.
Not wishing to get pinned out as he had done in the previous race, Barker took a dive down to leeward to try to take the inside berth. The outcome however was still the same as the Kiwis trailed at the first mark by 3 seconds.
On the downwind leg once again, Oracle looked better at spotting the breeze and gybing into it as they stretched ahead of Team New Zealand to round the bottom mark 1min ahead.
Upwind the Kiwis managed to haul some distance back but as the breeze got up Oracle popped up on her foils and hit the afterburners as she did so, her speed hitting 32knots.
Aside from a brief moment when the gap closed up after a slow gybe by Oracle, Spithill and Co never looked in too much danger as they charged to the finish to win by 37seconds.
Score so far – First to 9
America’s Cup Race 14 NZL USA
Distance Sailed (km) 23.812 24.298
Average Speed (kts) 22.58 23.31
Max Speed (kts) 35.41 36.60
Winning margin 23sec
America’s Cup Race 15 NZL USA
Distance Sailed (km) 22.080 22.296
Average Speed (kts) 25.40 26.23
Max Speed (kts) 40.35 41.80
Winning margin 37sec