The high stakes turnaround
Can they really pull this off? From being 8-1 down to their Kiwi rivals, 34th America's Cup defenders, Oracle Team USA added two more wins to current tally of four consecutive victories, taking the scoreline up to 8-5. Okay there is still some work to go but how Jimmy Spithill, Tommy Slingsby and Ben Ainslie ("Tommy and Benny" to quote their skipper) and the US team have turned this around is as impressive as how this America's Cup has properly become a yacht race, where, yes, there are minor differences in boat speed, but the biggest gains and losses are to be made the outcome off the start line and into the reaching mark and then through navigation, speed and boat handling to get to the weather mark in good shape.
Today Oracle Team USA won race 14 by 23 seconds and race 15 by 37 seconds.
“All in all, a fantastic job by the team,” said Oracle Team USA skipper Jimmy Spithill. “We got off the line well in both races, Ben and Tom made some high-pressure decisions, and in terms of physicality it was one of the toughest days out there given how up and down the wind range was. The boys on the handles (the grinders) dug in and were rewarded.”
In both races Oracle Team USA came off the start line to leeward of Emirates Team New Zealand and was in control approaching the first turning mark. Each time Spithill luffed Barker to gain a small amount of distance going into the run. The Kiwis made strong efforts on the upwind and second downwind legs to close the gaps, but could never get past the defender.
Barker wrote off today to poor positioning on the start line and poor performance on the first downwind legs. Interestingly, Oracle Team USA gained a total of 75 seconds on the first downwind leg in each race and Emirates Team New Zealand gained 37 seconds on the upwind legs.
“Yes, we’re fast enough to win this,” said Barker. “With that we have to sail well. We let ourselves down today on both first downwinds. It was hard where we started in both races. We were behind at Mark 1 both times and gave up too much distance on the downwinds. The boys worked hard and made gains upwind, but it was never quite enough to put pressure on ORACLE TEAM USA.”
Ben Ainslie also spoke of the difficulty on the race course, with the wind puffy and patchy. But when the wind strength increased in the second race, the crew unleashed Oracle Team USA and it began foiling upwind – a mode where the boat looks its best.
“Foiling upwind is a decision between me, Tom and Jimmy a bit, and it’s got to do with wind pressure,” said Ainslie. “If we see that we have good pressure and a good shift we’re happy to go in that mode. Today a bit in the second race we had good pressure and were happy to go fast the way we were going. It’s important to do it at the right time. If you do it at the wrong time on the outside of a shift or a header you can lose as much as you’d possibly gain.”
Tomorrow lighter conditions are forecast, yet still strong enough to conduct racing. But if today was patchy, tomorrow could be worse, adding pressure to both teams who have no margin for error.
“It’s right there for the taking, we just have to put a solid race together,” said Barker. “We didn’t do as good a job as what we expected today. We’re not down, we know we can win this thing, we just have to go out tomorrow and do a much better job.”
“This is a team that has been through a lot in this campaign,” said Spithill. “We’ve faced all sorts of adversity. We capsized Boat 1, everything going on before match, taking away 2 points and our wing trimmer, but the team didn’t wave the white flag. Now the boat is so much quicker that we believe we can win this. And we’ve got a wave of momentum behind us that’s getting bigger every day.”