Another exemplary performance on San Francisco Bay today in which they extended their consecutive series of bullets to seven, and Oracle Team USA has Emirates Team firmly on the ropes in the 34th America's Cup. Impressive the challenger and defender go into the last day of the competion tomorrow level on points with one race set to prove the nail-biting decider.
Only twice before in the 162 year history of the America’s Cup has there been a winner-take-all final race: in 1920 and 1983. In 1920 the defender won and in ’83 the challenger won.
Held in a 17 knots WSWerly and a 1.6 knot flood time, Oracle Team USA came in with the favoured port tack entry and as the 'pusher' succeeded in getting a hook on Emirates Team New Zealand, luffing them to a standstill on the start line. In this position the Kiwis were unable to keep clear and there was a glancing blow between the New Zealand AC72's port bow and Oracle Team USA's starboard transom. The result was a double penalty against the Kiwis for failing to keep clear as the windward boat. As Oracle Team USA comfortably bore away to start the race she was doing 32 knots as the Kiwis were wallowing with 4. Emirates Team New Zealand eventually rounded the reaching mark 16 seconds behind - the greatest deficit we've seen here.
With the wind up to a strength that would have caused cancelation with the ebb tide, the boats roared into the leeward gate at speeds into the mid-40s. Oracle Team USA rounded the port hand mark, while the Kiwis split, heading for the tidal relief behind Alcatraz Island. With a comfortable lead Oracle Team USA sailed relatively conservatively keeping themselves between the Kiwis and the mark to take a comfortable win by 27 seconds. 8-7 to the Kiwis.
The wind remained in 20 knot area for the second race with the tide flooding at 1.1 knots.
In an exact reversal of Race 17, on this occasion Emirates Team New Zealand came in with the port entry and managed to hook Oracle Team USA, forcing them head to wind. However the Kiwis didn't force the point as much as Oracle had in the previous race, allowing the defender to perform a better speed build into the line. However Barker and his boys managed to get the overlap and the inside berth coming into the reaching mark and rounded ahead... At this point, the Kiwis notched up an outright speed record of 47.57 knots. Could this be the race where they broke Oracle's winning streak?
Down the run the two boats seemed evenly matched, but three quarters of the way down the Kiwis allowed Oracle Team USA to get out of phase with them. At the leeward gate Emirates Team New Zealand rounded the starboard hand mark and headed off up the course towards Alcatraz Island in tidal relief. Meanwhile, Oracle Team USA performed the now familiar manoeuvre of heading around 300m off to the port side of the course before tacking.
As the two boats came together for the first cross Oracle had gained but there appeared to still be enough room for the Kiwis to cross. Instead they attempted a leebow tack but did it too early. With the Kiwis slow coming out of their tack, Oracle Team USA still up to speed simply rolled over of them and with the starboard boundary coming up, when they tacked they were ahead.
From there and presumably as the Kiwis were in a state of shock Oracle Team USA were launched up the beat and never looked back. From being behind at the leeward gate, the defender held a 57 second advantage at the top mark and was leading the Kiwis by more than 1km down the run, to take the bullet, and winning by 54 secons, they levelled the scoreline to 8-8.
Meanwhile the Kiwis were left wondering what they did wrong. Clearly they should have done more to prevent Oracle so easily getting the split at the leeward gate, while the outcome might have been different if their leebow tack had gone according to plan and it had succeeded in bouncing Oracle back to the left.
A week or so ago these are mistakes that Emirates Team New Zealand just wouldn't have made and are indications of a team that hasn't had a win on the board for a while. The team psychologists will be working overtime tonight if Barker and his crew are to be put into the right head space to stand any chance in tomorrow's 'winner takes all' grand finale.
“We do believe we can win, we’ve known we can win this thing for a long time,” said Barker. “It’s one thing to talk about it and another thing to do it. We have to do everything right and sail as well as we can. We’re going to prepare as we have been and we have confidence we can win this. No one’s slightly head down or lacking in confidence. We know if we put the pieces together we’ll be successful.”
Meanwhile Oracle Team USA is looking invincible with good communication going on in the back of the bus between helmsman Jimmy Spithill, tactician Ben Ainslie and strategist Tom Slingsby.
“I think we are the underdog, and I’m going to keep running with that and use that energy for tomorrow,” said Spithill. “The exciting thing for me is seeing how this team has gelled together. Sometimes you need to face that barrel of the gun to come together. You can get wobbly in the knees or you can look into the barrel. Every day we’ve managed to step it up more.”
Of their opposition Barker said: “It’s clear to see they were going pretty damn well. It was the first time that we recognised there was a condition where maybe we aren’t as strong as we need to be. It’s tough. We’re doing all we can, the guys never gave up, but clearly the Oracle guys were going well in that stuff.”
Race 17 Performance Data
Course: 5 Legs/10.11 nautical miles
Elapsed Time: OTUSA – 24:04, ETNZ – 24:31
Delta: OTUSA +:27
Total distance sailed: OTUSA – 11.8 NM, ETNZ – 11.6 NM
Average Speed: OTUSA – 29.62 knots, ETNZ – 28.63 knots
Top Speed: OTUSA – 44.02 knots, ETNZ – 46.33 knots
Windspeed: Average – 16.8 knots, Peak – 20.0 knots
Number of Tacks/Jibes: OTUSA – 8/6, ETNZ – 7/5
Race 18 Performance Data
Course: 5 Legs/10.11 nautical miles
Elapsed Time: OTUSA – 22:01, ETNZ – 22:55
Delta: OTUSA +:54
Total distance sailed: OTUSA – 11.7 NM, ETNZ – 11.9 NM
Average Speed: OTUSA – 31.92 knots, ETNZ – 31.23 knots
Top Speed: OTUSA – 45.79 knots, ETNZ – 47.57 knots
Windspeed: Average – 19.3 knots, Peak – 21.8 knots
Number of Tacks/Jibes: OTUSA – 7/7, ETNZ – 10/6
From Carlo Borlenghi / Luna Rossa / www.borlenghi.com