34th America's Cup slipping away for Oracle
Despite Ben Ainslie being brought on to replace John Kostecki in the tactician's role on board Oracle Team USA, victory in the 34th America's Cup is slipping through the defenders' fingers. Larry Ellison's team seems to have no answer to Emirates Team New Zealand's profound upwind ability and this cost them dearly in both of todays races - the delayed race six and race seven of the first to nine competition, both roundly won by the slick Kiwis.
The race started in lighter conditions than we have so far seen in this America's Cup with just 12 knots and a building flood tide, making the now famous 'cone' of tidal relief in the lee of Alcatraz Island all the more important.
On board 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) and Ben Ainslie (Tactician).
On board 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), Grant Dalton (Pedestal 3), Chris McAsey (Pedestal 4), Jeremy Lomas (Pit), Adam Beashel (Bow).
While Emirates Team New Zealand has been the strongest on time and distance runs into the line, generally they haven't been as aggressive as their opponents which many believe comes down to a profound desire by the Kiwis to preserve their race boat. In the first race, Jimmy Spithill did an exemplary job keeping the Oracle Team USA AC72 between his oppoent and the line, prevented the Kiwis from getting to leeward of them. This left the Kiwis trailing Oracle Team USA into the start line and eventually rounding the reaching mark nine seconds behind (the biggest delta we've seen at mark 1).
As usual the Kiwis were slicker in their gybes than Oracle Team USA and approaching the leeward gate put in an extra gybe allowing them to split with Oracle Team USA at the gate. Oracle Team USA didn't make a second go at their handbrake turn and instead hardened up around the port mark before tacking, while the Kiwis split, rounding the starboard mark 12 seconds behind and heading off to the right.
In just this opening stage of the beat, the Kiwis regained enough ground to cross ahead of Oracle as the two boats came together only for Oracle to regain the lead coming in from the right on the next cross. On the third cross, Barker impressively dialled down Oracle and from there it was pretty much game over. However as a work out for the grinders, it was impressive as a tacking duel ensured, with Oracle Team USA carrying out 15 tacks (one more than the Kiwis) en route to the top mark. This was almost certainly a deliberate ploy by Emirates Team New Zealand knowing that Oracle Team USA is not fitted with a self-tacking jib and as a result requires more effort to tack.
The Kiwis extended up the beat, and as usual arriving at the top mark first, it was then pretty a case of delivering their boat down the final run and reach to the finish line where they arrived with a 47 second delta.
For the second race, the wind had built to 17 knots with the tide still flooding and Oracle Team USA once again having the port entry. On this occasion, Emirates Team New Zealand fully nailed it. They took up position to weather and were spot on with their speed build into the line, crossing the line at 38 knots, considerably faster than their opponent and leaving Oracle Team USA with no option other than to trail the Kiwis into the reaching mark.
The Kiwis hung on to their lead down the run and led into the port leeward gate mark with Oracle following them. And once again Emirates Team New Zealand was able to extend away up the beat, again providing an upwind catamaran sailing masterclass. The Kiwis in particular seem to accelerate much faster out of tacks than Oracle. Emirates Team New Zealand won by 1:05. This takes the score up to 6-0 or technically 6 to -1, with the Kiwis three points away on claiming victory for their second time in the USA since the team prised the Auld Mug back to their shores in 1995.
The change from Kostecki to Ainslie seems to have improved communication at the back of Oracle Team USA but this hasn't been enough to make up for their shortfall in windward performance. Seeing Ainslie in the tacticians role rather than helming is unusual and one imagines he had to get a crash course in how to use the tablet that the tacticians have strapped to their wrists. They even put him on the pumps with Tom Slingsby - Olympic Laser gold medallists, both of them.
Spithill commented: “Sure we made a change in the back of the boat. Both John and Ben are fantastic sailors, two of the best sailors in the world. We’re very fortunate that we can rotate guys like that. But we’ll have to study the data and see what we can do to change up the boat.
“We still haven’t seen some conditions. Those guys have an edge upwind and tacking, but we still haven’t seen the light-air end of the spectrum and we haven’t seen the Code 0s. We still have to look at the boat and what we can do to improve it. There’s a long way to go in my mind.”
Emirates Team New Zealand skipper Dean Barker said: “We’re very satisfied with the day; it’s nice to get two more points, but there’s still a long way to go. It’s only two-thirds of the way to actually winning the Cup. You have to win 9 points. Three more races is a lot of hard work, and we know that it’s far from over. One bad day out there and momentum changes and things can be quite different. We’re under no illusion, there’s still a very hard road ahead.”
Barker continued: “The good thing for us is we’re very happy with the boat, very confident in the way it’s going and the more racing we do the more we learn relative to other guys.”
Despite all the spying Oracle Team USA skipper Jimmy Spithill said that the team had been surprised by the Kiwi ability upwind: “We didn’t know about the designs before the match started. Both teams spent a lot of time and energy focused on each other and where we stood. I think it’s a shock they have the edge upwind and potentially we have an edge downwind.”
Racing resumes on Saturday with Races 8 and 9, starting at 1:15 pm PT (20:15 GMT or 21:15 BST).