Oracle Team USA first point on the board
Racing in the America's Cup got closer still today when races three and four were held and Oracle Team USA got its first point on the board to take the scoreline to 3 to -1. Winning race four was a significant step psychologically for the defender which has appeared to have been slightly on the backfoot - and, unexpectedly, slightly slower - since they started the competition on Saturday.
Conditions were similar to Saturday with racing starting at the end of the flood tide and around 15 knots of wind, but gusting above 20 knots for race two, the only difference being the weather marks being shrouded in heavy fog, which slowly burned off during the racing.
On Oracle Team USA today were Shannon Falcone (Grinder), Joe Spooner (Grinder), Jono Macbeth (Grinder), Rome Kirby (Off side trimmer), Joey Newton (Jib Trimmer), Gillo Nobili (Grinder), Simeon Tienpont (Grinder), Kyle Langford (Wing trimmer), Jimmy Spithill (Helm/Skipper), Tom Slingsby (Strategist), John Kostecki (Tactician)
On Emirates Team New Zealand today were Dean Barker (Helm/Skipper), Ray Davies (Tactician), Glenn Ashby (Wing Trimmer), Chris Ward (Pedestal 1), Rob Waddell (Pedestal 2), Derek Saward (Floater grinder), James Dagg (Trimmer), Chris McAsey (Pedestal 4), Jeremy Lomas (Pit), Adam Beashel (Bow), R1: Grant Dalton R2: Winston Macfarlane (Pedestal 3)
Oracle Team USA had the favoured port entry and was a little late but still comfortably passing ahead of Emirates Team New Zealand. The defender gybed around to head back to the line while the Kiwis tacked back, setting up to weather (as we saw in races 1 and 2). After killing some speed en route to the line, the Kiwis in the weather berth, were a fraction slower to accelerate into the line, allowing Oracle Team USA to get the inside berth at the reaching mark. This was the first time in the competition that Emirates Team New Zealand has been behind at the reaching mark. Spithill also took the opportunity to luff the Kiwis, who received a penalty (seemingly very short) for not keeping clear.
Oracle Team USA maintained its lead going into the leeward gate mark, rounding the port hand mark while the Kiwis split, passing the starboard mark heading off on port up towards Alcatraz. Oracle tacked to cover and remained comfortably ahead getting into a tacking duel as the two boats passed Alcatraz. However all the time the Kiwis were gaining, sailing slightly faster and higher and in particular losing less speed during tacks.
The signficant moment came as the two boats converged on the course boundary line on the port, shore side of the course. The introduction of the course boundary has seen a new rule having to be introduced so that within five boatlengths of the boundary line the boat on port tack coming out of the boundary has rights over the starboard tack boat coming into the boundary. The Kiwis made better use of this in a tacking duel close to the boundary and forcing Oracle to tack to leeward, with the added help of their slicker manoeuvres, gained the lead. Once ahead the Kiwis covered their opponent to lead into the top mark with a 29 second advantage. As ever the boat first to the weather mark could not be caught and Emirates Team New Zeand got its third point on the board finishing with a 28 second delta.
Between the races Winston Macfarlane replaced Grant Dalton on the Kiwi boat.
On this occasion the Kiwis had the favoured port entry. Coming in on starboard Oracle Team USA gybed to follow with the Kiwis tacking back for the line 1:15 out from the gun. Oracle tack around later chasing the Kiwis back to the line. Both boats were late and had more opportunity to open up the throttle drag racing across the line at 35 knots with Oracle Team USA once again in the leeward berth. Overlapped with the Kiwis, Spithill performed a 40 knot luff on the Kiwi cat and then bore away into the reaching mark, rounding six seconds ahead.
Emirates Team New Zealand was a little flustered by this and their first gybe on the run was one of the least slick we have seen in recent week, the hull touching down causing them to lose speed. Oracle Team USA comfortably led down the run but almost came acropper when someone, possible Tom Slingsby, accidently hit the button releasing the hydraulics holding the foil down, causing the black catamaran to dive into the water. Fortunately the defender recovered well but their speed having plummeted from 35 to 20 knots allowed Emirates Team New Zealand to close, following them around the port mark just five seconds behind.
Up the beat this situation would normally have played into the hands of the Kiwis, however on this occasion they were unable to get a piece of Oracle Team USA and made it around the top mark 16 seconds behind. For the first time there was a split at the top mark with Oracle Team USA rounding the port mark and the Kiwis rounding the familiar starboard one. On this leg the tables were again turned with the Kiwis seemingly faster, closing in on Oracle Team to reach the leeward gate just five seconds behind to finish eight seconds apart.
So Oracle Team USA got its first point on the board, taking the score to 3 - -1.
Skipper Jimmy Spithill said he was disappointed that rival skipper Dean Barker led at the first mark in the first two races on Saturday. He worked hard last night with coach Philippe Presti to put their game “back together.”
“It was huge, huge,” said Spithill of winning Race 4. “It’s good to see the team under some serious pressure, especially after the first race; we had the lead, we let it slip away. A lesser team probably would’ve crumbled in the fourth race. It feels good to shift momentum over to us.”
Barker also pointed to positioning at the first mark as being crucial to the outcome of both races: “We have to make sure we get in a good position at Mark 1, from there you have a lot more control over your destiny. We don’t like losing races, but at the same time a lot of good things can come out of it that will make us better on Tuesday.”
The stats from the races don't tell us very much, other than how close the boats are: In race one Oracle Team USA was faster on the runs (35.78 to 33. 58 and 36.76 to 36.21) and on the reaches (38.51 to 37.21 and 39.63 to 38.79 knots) while the Kiwis were faster on the beat (21.68 knots to 21.19).
In race two Emirates Team New Zealand was faster on both runs (37.34 v 36.37 and 39.48 to 38.18 knots) but sailing a little further on the first run. Oracle was faster on the beat (23.93 to 23.15) and on both reaches (40.51 to 38.72 and 38.38 to 35.97 knots).
Racing resumes on Tuesday with Races 5 and 6, scheduled for 1:15 pm PT and 2:15 pm PT.
More from Chris Cameron/Emirates Team New Zealand