34th America's Cup gets ever closer
Much changing of plane tickets is going on in San Francisco at the moment with Oracle Team USA gaining its third win and its first official point on the board. With Emirates Team New Zealand claiming Race 10, the scoreline in this first-to-nine competition is currenlty 7-1 in the Kiwi's favour.
In theory Emirates Team New Zealand could win the 34th America's Cup if they come out on top in both of Tuesday's two races, but Oracle Team USA's AC72 has gained legs and, surprisingly given how extreme these two boats are, is relatively similar now in performance to the Kiwi boat, to the extent that we are now getting close racing - far closer than we ever expected. Previously the 1983 match goes down as the closest in terms of needing all seven of the scheduled races while the 2007 match was the closest in terms of average finish time deltas.
Today on board Oracle Team USA were Skipper: Jimmy Spithill, Tactician: Ben Ainslie, Strategist: Tom Slingsby, Wing trimmer: Kyle Langford, Jib trimmer: Joe Newton, Off-side trimmer: Rome Kirby, Grinders: Shannon Falcone, Joe Spooner, Jono MacBeth, Gillo Nobili, Simeon Tienpont.
While in the Emirates Team New Zealand crew were Skipper/helmsman: Dean Barker, Tactician: Ray Davies, Wing Trimmer: Glenn Ashby, Trimmer: James Dagg, Bow: Adam Beashel, Pit: Jeremy Lomas, Pedestal 1: Chris Ward, Pedestal 2: Rob Waddell, Pedestal 3: Grant Dalton, Pedestal 4: Chris McAsey, Float/Grinder: Derek Saward.
Once again the wind was hovering at around 18-19 knots, just below the maximum wind limit, with Race 9 of the series coinciding with the height of the ebb tide (2.2 knots) out of San Francisco Bay. Once again this opened up the race course laterally, the tide with the boats on the beat and slightly strong on the starboard side away from the shore.
With Oracle Team USA on the starboard entry, both tacticians wanted the leeward, 'uptide' pin end of the line. With Oracle Team USA leading back in on the port hand layline into the pin, Emirates Team New Zealand attempted to hook Oracle, but Spithill slipped free by bearing away, doing an expert job of keeping the Oracle boat between their opponent and the line. Both boats slowed as they hardened up for the line and crossed late, with the Kiwis trailing Oracle who charged into the reaching mark at 40+ knots with a four second lead.
Oracle again looked smooth through the water on the run, their boat handling much improved compared to last week's showing. They led around the starboard leeward gate mark, with Emirates Team New Zealand rounding 18 seconds late, splitting to round the port gate mark.
In a turnaround from last week, Emirates Team New Zealand looked average on the beat compared to Oracle Team USA. The defender for example seems to have perfected foil to foil tacks, where positive lift is put on to the new weather board going into the tack to help it pop out and looking at the averages up the beat on this race the Kiwis average lowest speed during tacks was 11.5 knots while for Oracle Team USA it was 13. In addition, Oracle Team USA was also sailing higher and faster, both things last week we were attributing to the Kiwis.
Oracle Team USA extended up the beat to round the top mark 33 seconds ahead and had grown this to 47 seconds down to run, maintaining this delta at the finish.
Oracle Team USA skipper/helmsman Jimmy Spithill said that they had sorted out some of their software issues they had experienced on Saturday following the shortening of their bowsprit. This helped them in the pre-start. He also admitted that immediately prior to the start they had had a problem with one of their rudders, which Spithill felt may have been due to a pre-start collision.
Again the race was held right at the top of the wind limit with 19.5 knots from the southwest and the wind limit set at 21.5 knots.
In this race the Kiwis were on port entry and gybed back to the line with Oracle Team USA to weather of them. Barker on this occasion led back again wanting the pin end. As expected, Spithill plunged in attempting to get the hook and appeared to have timed it just nicely as in accelerating the Kiwi boat appeared to go too far over the port/upwind layline into the pin. Behind, Oracle Team USA weren't so pressed and had better speed coming into the line as the Kiwis struggled to make it around the pin but then accelerating better than the defender.
In the charge to the reaching mark, Oracle Team USA managed to just get clear ahead before they took a dive enabling the Kiwis to get the overlap and the inside berth at the mark, luffing Oracle Team USA a little before bearing away at their own convenience.
Emirates Team New Zealand defended its lead on the run with Oracle Team USA getting out of phase on the gybe, enabling them to get the split at the leeward gate where the Kiwis once again took the port hand mark and Oracle Team USA the starboard mark.
In their first encounter on the beat the Kiwis crossed clear ahead on port but Oracle was slowly making gains. On the beat the two AC72s came together seven time and on the fifth Oracle Team USA, coming in on starboard, was able to cross ahead of Emirates Team New Zealand, with the Kiwis regaining the lead on the next cross when they had the starboard advantage and the Kiwis finally ducking Oracle again on their very last encounter coming into the top mark with Oracle taking the port mark, the Kiwis splitting right.
Oracle Team USA may have been one second ahead at the top mark, but when the two boats came together on the second downwind leg, it was Emirates Team New Zealand that had rights on starboard gybe and Oracle Team USA had no choice other than to slow to allow the Kiwis to cross ahead of them. From there was all over with the Kiwis defending well to finish 17 seconds ahead.
Of the slow down, Oracle Team USA tactician Ben Ainslie explained: "It was pretty close on that run to the finish. The situation where we were, if we jibed before Team New Zealand they would’ve been in a strong position to defend, so we elected to go behind and hope for a piece when they jibed back. It’s really hard to judge that right when you’re going along at almost 40 knots. We didn’t do too bad a job, but it wasn’t quite enough to get back into it.”
Of the beat in that race, Kiwi skipper Dean Barker admitted: "We turned a comfortable lead into getting behind them. But our gate mark at the top was the preferred one. Down the run there was an intersection and there wasn't much they could do.
“It was very important to bounce back after the first race; the Oracle boat sailed a great race and gave us no opportunities,” Barker added. “The second race was close across the first reach; they touched the water once, which gave us the lead at the mark. We felt strong at the bottom mark but they sailed a good upwind leg and were right there at the top.”
But of today's racing generally Barker was impressed: “If you didn’t enjoy today’s racing you should probably watch another sport.”
Veteran America’s Cup watchers said today’s second race was the most exciting they had seen for many, many years. In fact, they agreed, probably the most exciting in living memory – two big, fast boats revelling in the fresh conditions engaging in close-quarter racing and neither team showing any inclination to back off.
Ainslie agreed: “I can honestly say this is the most fun and exciting sailing I’ve been involved with."
Racing resumes on Tuesday with Races 11 and 12, starting at 20:15 UTC. It will be interesting to see what other performance rabbits the teams can pull out of their hats during tomorrow's layday.
Race 9 Performance Data
Course: 5 Legs/10.02 nautical miles
Elapsed Time: OTUSA – 21:53, ETNZ – 22:40
Delta: OTUSA +:47
Total distance sailed: OTUSA – 11.3 NM, ETNZ – 11.5 NM
Average Speed: OTUSA – 31.63 knots (36 mph), ETNZ – 31.32 knots (36 mph)
Top Speed: OTUSA – 42.52 knots (49 mph), ETNZ – 42.54 knots (49 mph)
Windspeed: Average – 17.6 knots, Peak – 20.8 knots
Number of Tacks/gybes: OTUSA – 8/6, ETNZ – 8/8
Race 10 Performance Data
Course: 5 Legs/10.02 nautical miles
Elapsed Time: ETNZ – 22:00, OTUSA – 22:16
Delta: ETNZ +:16
Total distance sailed: ETNZ – 11.8 NM, OTUSA – 11.7 NM
Average Speed: ETNZ – 32.25 knots (37 mph), OTUSA – 31.76 knots (36 mph)
Top Speed: ETNZ – 43.01 knots (49 mph), OTUSA – 44.98 knots (52 mph)
Windspeed: Average – 18.3 knots, Peak – 22.3 knots
Number of Tacks/gybes: ETNZ – 7/7, OTUSA – 7/7
More photos from Carlo Borlenghi/Luna Rossa/www.borlenghi.com