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Gary Jobson's Notes from the 34th America's Cup

The America's Cup Trophy. Photo by Gilles Martin-Raget.

The America's Cup Trophy. Photo by Gilles Martin-Raget.

Gary Jobson, President of the National Sailing Hall of Fame, is posting a series of notes on the America's Cup, which began with his thoughts during the Louis Vuitton Cup and will continue each race day during the America's Cup.



Note 17: SHOWDOWN! PDF Print

By Gary Jobson, President
National Sailing Hall of Fame

September 24, 2013

Sept. 24: OTUSA ties it up. Photo credit: Gilles Martin-Raget. ©ACEA   The 34th America's Cup defense has turned into more of a people show than a boat show. Sure, the boats are amazingly fast, technological marvels, but the emotional highs and lows that we are feeling while watching and listening to the sailors compete is the epitome of human drama. How could anyone write a script for such a compelling narrative?

    Think about these story lines: The America's Cup has been won and lost by the most successful business leaders of their eras. This is the oldest continuously contested trophy in international sports, dating back to 1851. The score is tied at 8-8. We are down to one, 30-minute race around a 10-mile course, off the city front of San Francisco. A tiny, sailing-crazed nation, with a home-grown crew, is up against one of the wealthiest men in the world, who has acquired the services of Olympic champions and superstars from seven nations. New Zealand has been one race from winning the Cup for a week, while Oracle Team USA has felt the pressure of being on the brink of defeat for seven races in a row. Tomorrow, one team will be heroes; the other will be hurting for a long time.

    Today, on the 18th day of the Cup, we saw two very different races. In the first contest, the Australian skipper of the American boat, James Spithill, forced the New Zealanders into irons at the start. This is the equivalent of a football player fumbling the ball in his own end zone and the other team recovering it for a touchdown. USA 17 jumped to a comfortable lead. After the start, the boats seemed fairly even in speed in 15-18 knots of wind. With another American victory the score stood at 8-7, with ETNZ still leading the series. After the race, the Kiwi skipper, Dean Barker, sounded determined to get right back on the racecourse.

    Race Two commenced on-schedule. At the start, both boats hit the line at the same time. USA 17 was to windward. Could they drive over the top of NZL? Barker was in the better inside position and luffed Spithill at the first turning mark. Downwind, USA 17 gained a length or two. There wasn't much difference in speed between the AC 72s. Both cats streaked down the course at 41 knots. About one-half mile from the leeward gate, USA 17 jibed. Inexplicably, NZL continued on. The leading boat should always cover by staying between the competitor and the next mark. The American boat was working to set up a split at the gate to sail on a different course than the Kiwis. Had NZL jibed with USA 17 they would have stayed in phase. Then USA 17 would have been forced to make two jibes to get the split. In contrast during previous races, OTUSA's tactician, Great Britain's Ben Ainslie, covered closely when they were ahead on Leg Two.

    On the third leg to windward, USA 17 inched up under the lee of Alcatraz Island. I wonder if the prisoners in the 1930s would have been able to watch the Cup races had they taken place on the Bay at that time? NZL tacked over. They were crossing by about three lengths. NZL's tactician, Ray Davies, called for a tack ahead but to leeward of USA 17. At that moment, Spithill headed down a few degrees, got his boat foiling and sailed right over NZL. The Kiwis were stunned. When USA 17 tacked back into the center of course, NZL followed immediately. NZL could have extended a few more lengths and that might have helped them keep their wind clear. It is never tidy when a faster boat passes a slower boat. At that moment USA 17 took off and sailed away from NZL at an astonishing rate. It reminds me of the philosophy of boxer Mike Tyson, who said, "Every opponent has a plan until I punch them in the nose." The crew of Emirates Team New Zealand looked as if Tyson had landed one of his punishing left hooks. USA 17 crossed the line in triumph. The American team had tied the score at 8 to 8.

Sept. 24: Larry Ellison applauds his team. Photocredit: Gilles Martin-Raget ©ACEA    After the race, I think Jimmy Spithill was ready to sail the finale right then. His crew looked super-happy. Over on NZL it was total devastation. Neither Dean Barker, Ray Davies, or syndicate head Grant Dalton were up to doing a post-race interview from the boat. Their faces told the story. Their boat and crew were no longer the dominant team they were for the first eleven days of this historic match.

    On August 28 I predicted in my AC Report # 5 that “Oracle Team USA would defend....barely.” Little did I know at the time that their wing trimmer would be disqualified from competition for illegally altering the team's AC 45s last year. Nor did I know that USA 17 would be so slow compared to New Zealand on the opening weekend. Nor did I realize how Oracle could make such a comeback. An old saying defined the American team, "When the going gets tough, the tough get going."

    After each losing day, Jimmy Spithill would boldly declare, "We can win races." The press corps was incredulous. He made his statements with such over-the-top conviction that it made you wonder if maybe he was right. It reminds me of the great football quarterback Joe Namath's bold guarantee that the upstart American Football League, the New York Jets, would defeat the mighty Baltimore Colts. The Jets won 16-7. Namath has been a hero ever since.

    Spithill must have known that his design team and shore crew had many experiments that might give the boat additional speed. The big secret around here is what did OTUSA do to improve their speed? I believe it is a combination of many little things. Eventually we will know. After every America's Cup, designers and engineers present papers on their research and innovations. I bet we’ll see volumes of material published over the next few years. The secret of the USA turnaround is the designers.

Sept25. Battle on the water. Photocredit: Gilles Martin-Raget. ©ACEA.    BUT!

    The America's Cup is not over. We have one more race. OTUSA has won ten times. They only have eight points because two were taken away for their rules infractions. New Zealand has won eight races, but was ahead in three other races that were abandoned for either too much wind, or too little. The weather let the Kiwis down just as they were close to securing their ninth victory. Mother nature can be cruel.

    Sports are compelling because we can never really know the outcome. That is why these races are so much fun to watch. To be the only journalist commentating in the middle of racecourse is quite a privilege. I have never watched or sailed in such a hard-fought battle.

    After the race today, I was talking with my co-commentator Todd Harris and our producer, Leon Sefton. My cell phone rang. On the other end of the line was Ted Turner. He was in Atlanta and has been watching all the races. He sounded excited and was very complementary about our television coverage. Ted is one of the greatest sailors of our time. He has won the America's Cup, was a four-time Yachtsman of the Year, is a member of the National Sailing Hall of Fame, and is one of the most successful television visionaries in the world. Ted, like so many other sailors and non-sailors alike, has been riveted by this America's Cup. I am sure he will be watching tomorrow.

    Todd Harris, Ken Read and I will do our best to let the pictures play, and the words of the competitors tell the story as we describe the biggest sailboat race of this century. Tune in at 4pm ET (1 pm PT) to the NBC Sports Network.

    Most everyone here in San Francisco believes Oracle Team USA has the America's Cup being re-bolted to its pedestal. If Oracle prevails they will complete an amazing turn around. If New Zealand finds a way to win, it will be an even bigger turn around. As the legendary Al Michaels once asked while calling a hockey game during the 1980 Winter Olympic Games, "Do you believe in miracles?" At this point it might take a miracle for the proud New Zealanders to win, but are you sure they won't? You better watch, because America's Cup history will be written tomorrow.

 

Photos courtesy of and © ACEA - Photo Credit: Gilles Martin-Raget.

 
Note 16: Answering the Challenge PDF Print

By Gary Jobson, President
National Sailing Hall of Fame

September 23, 2013

16-Code-Zeroes-Sept-23-2013. Photo Credit. R. Steven Tsuchiya.   President Bill Clinton had a great expression when meeting people with troubles. He always connected by saying, "I feel your pain." To paraphrase Mr. Clinton, "We are feeling Emirate Team New Zealand's pain." The fading, near-winners of the America's Cup just don't seem to have an answer for the remarkable comeback by Oracle Team USA. The Kiwis have canceled victory celebrations, a charter flight to Auckland and said goodbye to many fans who have patiently waited for the big win. This could be the biggest collapse in the history of the America's Cup. Just five days ago, ETNZ was up 8-1, but now the score is 8-6. The USA has won five straight, and are getting faster and better with each race. What can the Kiwis do?

    First a quick review of the performance differences between NZL and USA 17. At the start of Race 16 today, both boats were exactly 0.5 seconds behind the starting line, according to the AC LiveLine data. In 12.2 knots of wind (at least what I read on the race committee boat, Regardless) OTUSA lifted up on its foils immediately after the start. New Zealand did not lift off its foils and was rolled by USA 17 that had started to windward. On the downwind leg, the American boat slowly stretched out. Halfway down Leg Three, NZL rolled out its gennaker. The speeds were nearly identically. Not taking any chances, OTUSA rolled out its gennaker. At the leeward gate the boats split sides. Against a 1.5-knot flood current, and sailing in spotty 11-15 knot winds, the two boats seemed even in speed. Just last week NZL would have sailed right past USA 17. Not anymore.

16-Ray-Davies-Sept-23-2013    So let's say you have to defeat a boat that is faster reaching, has a slight edge downwind, can foil earlier, and can maneuver just as well as you. What could you do to reach the finish line ahead? The first step is to win the start. NZL skipper, Dean Barker has won several starts. He knows he can do it. OTUSA’s Australian skipper, James Spithill, understands that Barker is really good and will try not to take risky chances. Barker must be bold, and try something that Spithill doesn't expect. Against a boat that appears to accelerate faster, Barker needs to start to leeward and ahead, and force USA 17 away from the first mark. On the downwind leg, Kiwi tactician Ray Davies must look forward and keep his boat in stronger winds. At times he should call to cover closely, while at other times he must be bold when he is sure his boat is in better wind. These are tricky calls, but this is the moment for greatness. If NZL can round ahead at the leeward gate they must cover USA 17 and use their starboard advantage and wind shadow to force USA 17 to make extra tacks, or sail in disturbed wind. If the USA gets behind on Leg Three, watch them make some desperate moves. Life is good when you are leading, but things can change if you get behind. When the hard truth of defeat is on the horizon mistakes are often made.

    In my long career on the match race circuit, and in a number of America's Cup trials, I have been on a slower boat, and still found a way to win. (I have also been on faster boats and still lost). Every athlete is capable of mistakes, including the crew of USA 17. For NZL it starts with the belief that they can win. Dean Barker and his crew have already won eight races, and they have been ahead in three others that were canceled. Bad luck for NZL, but you can't look back. It hasn't been so easy for OTUSA, either. 16-Smiles-aboard-OTUSA-Sept-23-2013. Photo Credit. R. Steven Tsuchiya.They had to eat a two-point penalty and yet have kept fighting back. Barker and his tactician, Ray Davies, have been mates since their earliest days. There is a real trust between them. Together they can find a way to win. Right now they need a spark to break out of this slump. I am not sure why NZL’s team leader, Grant Dalton, has been off the crew roster, but he needs to get back on the boat. Dalton may have an injury, or some other issue that keeps him out of the lineup, but I think his presence makes a difference.

    Completing this America's Cup feels like waiting for astronaut John Glenn's space launch in 1962. Glenn was on the launch pad for weeks before his rocket, Friendship 7 was ready, and the weather conditions favorable. Like Glenn's experience years ago, the mental strain on those involved in this Cup is causing fatigue. Everyone expected this to be long over. According to yachting historian, John Rousmaniere, the longest span in days for a Cup match was back in 1899. The NYYC race committee tried to complete races starting on Oct 3 between Columbia and Shamrock. The last race was completed on Oct 20. That's 18 days. Tomorrow is the 18th day of the 34th Defense.

    If NZL can win the opening race scheduled to start at 1:15 local time, the Cup is over. If NZL loses they might pull a card that allows them to postpone the second race of the day. But, Dean Barker said at the post race press conference that they would not. We will see. The wind is expected to blow harder tomorrow. Luckily, we will have a flood tide of 1.6 knots for the first race, raising the 23-knot wind limit to 24.6 knots. I doubt the wind will build that high. Calling for a time out would force the Kiwis to sail two races on Wednesday. The stakes are incredibly high. But, when you think about it, where would you rather be than on one of the AC 72s for a race of this magnitude?

    The crowds today were paltry. I counted a maximum of 25 spectator boats on the water. Some of the bleachers along the waterfront are being dismantled. This is in stark contrast to the huge crowds that were watching over the past few weekends. For most people normal life needs to continue. The dramatic drop in attendance reminds me of 1969 when an estimated 400,000 people attended the Woodstock Music & Art Fair. The last act on the list of star-studded rock bands that performed throughout a three day weekend did not get to play until Monday morning. Jimmy Hendrix gave the performance of his career, and yet, only 25,000 were on hand to hear him.

    Sometime over the next one, two or three days, either Oracle Team USA, or Emirates Team New Zealand will win the America's Cup. Every race will be broadcast live on the NBC Sports Network starting at 4pm Eastern Time (1pm Pacific). These will be epic races for the ages. One team will feel pain, the other will be somewhere between elated and ecstatic.

 

Photos courtesy of photographer Steven Tsuchiya.

 

 
Note 15: Speed, Smarts, and a Little Luck PDF Print

By Gary Jobson, President
National Sailing Hall of Fame

September 22, 2013

15-Oracle-takes-both-races-Sept-22-2013   Can Emirates Team New Zealand dig into their collective inner soul and find a way to win the 34th America's Cup? The way it is going, the Kiwis are in deep trouble.

   Oracle Team USA is on a roll. They are winning starts, sailing really smart, and at times they are blazingly fast. The USA still needs to win four races to successfully defend, while NZL only needs one victory to take the Cup down under. Race 16 on Monday will mark the longest period in Cup racing days since the first defense in 1870. Several thousand fans from NZ, who are here in San Francisco, can't believe what is happening. Neither can the team. Three races have been abandoned when NZL was ahead for either too much wind, or too little, hence the bad luck. I still believe the Kiwis can pull this off.

    It starts with a renewed attitude. NZL skipper, Dean Barker, has got to ignore all the noise, expectations, thoughts of destiny, or even winning the regatta. He needs to declare to his team that they are going to win, and do it with such determination that everyone believes him. I watched Ted Turner do this many times. True conviction is infectious. The sailors and the design team need to work through every possible improvement that is available. Any changes must be in sync with the wind, current and wave conditions. The USA has been masterful at making innovations after going 1-3 in the first two days of the regatta. Today, in 16 knots of wind, I watched USA 17 race by my position on the race committee boat on Leg Three at 29 knots. The boat was up on its foils while sailing to windward. In contrast, at that moment, NZL was sailing at 22 knots. Does NZL have an answer?

    Since Race One, OTUSA seems to have a small edge sailing downwind. If the USA has a weak spot it is sailing upwind in lighter winds. Tomorrow the weather is forecast for light wind in the morning. This might be the best opportunity for NZL. If they lose the first race, and the wind starts to build, NZL might pull out a postponement card for the second race of the day, and hope the wind is light for the next day. Certainly the Kiwis want to avoid a winner-take-all race with the score tied up.

    To win, Dean Barker has to take the start. On my unofficial score card, in 15 races Barker has won six starts, and OTUSA's Australian skipper, James Spithill, has won nine. Before today's first race I watched Spithill and crew methodically practice several starts. 15-The-two-skippers-Sept-22-2013They did short timed runs, long timed runs, acceleration practice, and worked the middle, leeward and windward ends of the line. They maximized their practice time like it was their last opportunity to hold on to the America's Cup. Oh, wait a minute — every race is their last opportunity to hold on to the America's Cup. In contrast, ETNZ went through their normal routine, which is to cross the line, sail to Mark # 1 and do some jibes. But, they did not use the pre-race practice period for intense starting practice. Maybe they should set up a starting line early in the morning and schedule some practice starts.

    If the Kiwis can win the start, the next item is to stay ahead on the downwind leg, knowing they might be a little slower. This is where the tactician, Ray Davies, needs to make good calls. Most of the time the leading boat must cover, but sometimes it is better to stay in stronger wind than make extra maneuvers. Over on USA 17, British tactician, Ben Ainslie, has found the correct balance between covering and going for better wind. This is where championships (or America's Cups) are won.

    ETNZ has plenty of strengths. Dean Barker is doing a really good job steering. The crew continues to handle their boat with precision on every maneuver. But for Mr. Davies? This is his hour. My advice is to simply go out and have some fun. Treat the next race just like you would in any weekend regatta. If you get caught up thinking about the high stakes of this event, you are cooked. Going with your gut instinct always seems to work.

 15-Ray-Davies-Sept-23-2013   A few days before the first race of the 1977 America's Cup I will never forget Ted Turner telling me, "I am going to have fun in this regatta, because I think it will improve our chances of winning."

    Oracle Team USA's owner, Larry Ellison, has a lot on his plate at the moment. About 60,000 people are here in San Francisco for Oracle Open World, a huge technology conference. This is an important event for his company. Yet, he is on the water for every race. Mr. Ellison stopped by our race committee boat yesterday for a brief hello and seemed very energized by his sailing team's turnaround. My only regret for him in this Cup is that Ellison should have been able to sail on his boat. Whatever format evolves for the next America's Cup, I hope the owners can be aboard. Surely, this would be a good incentive for captains of industry to organize sailing teams.

    The number of spectator boats on the water is getting smaller by the day. I have never seen so few boats watching an America's Cup. I spoke at a local yacht club here on Friday night. I asked why more boats were not out on the bay? Several people at my table said, "Its better watching on television." Lucky me; I get to do both. Being aboard the race committee boat with our television crew, cameraman Greg Peterson and engineer Bruce Jackson, has been great fun. We have the television images, AC LiveLine graphic information, and get to see the boats up close. At times they sail past within one boat length.

    Racing on San Francisco Bay certainly provides good theater for spectators all along the shoreline. But I would like to add an editorial comment. The restrictions of where the course can be set makes it a difficult challenge for the race committee. Yesterday we were unable to get a race off because the wind was left of 230 degrees. If a race had been sailed the boats would have reached to each mark. A parade would be unfair to the competitors. The race committee will not start a race if the wind is to the right of 280 degrees. To make the short 40 minute time limit the wind needs to average at least 8 knots. But, they cannot race in winds over 23 knots for safety reasons. These are severely limiting parameters. If the races are to be held on San Francisco Bay in the future, a little more flexibility is order.

 15-Confident-Ben-Ainslie-Sept-22-2013   As I mentioned in an earlier AC Report, I like cheering for one team at sporting events. Right now I want both teams to win. It would be heartwarming to watch Dean Barker and his Kiwi crew break out of their slump and win it. It means a lot to that tiny nation. At the same time, I am really enjoying watching James Spithill and his team come charging back after near-certain defeat. While commentating on the races for television I always have my tactician's mind engaged. Ben Ainslie is great fun to watch. He is like a chess master. Ainslie gets a helpful mental boost from the observations of OTUSA's strategist, Tom Slingsby. Every sailor should listen carefully to the communication between these two Olympic champions.
     
    I guess a tie is out of the question. One team must win nine races. It could happen tomorrow, or it could come down to one race with the score tied at 8-8. Either way the conclusion is going to be fascinating. Tell your friends to tune in and watch sailing history being made. We may never see anything like this again.

    At 4 pm Eastern Time (1 pm Pacific) Todd Harris, Ken Read and I, along with our very energized production team, look forward to bringing you the finale of the 34th America's Cup defense on the NBC Sports Network.

 

Photos courtesy of photographer Steven Tsuchiya.

 

 
Note 14: America's Cup Destiny? PDF Print

By Gary Jobson, President
National Sailing Hall of Fame

September 20, 2013

14-OTUSA-Sept-20    How would you like to have four-time British Olympic champion, Sir Ben Ainslie, calling tactics for you in the biggest race of your life? Adding to the collective wisdom of the Team Oracle USA afterguard is another Olympic champion, Australian Tom Slingsby. The USA team (with only one American on board) took another step closer to defending the America's Cup. They were very lucky when light winds prevented Emirates Team New Zealand from crossing the finish line, as NZL was well ahead but just missed finishing within the required 40 minutes. In the re-sail of Race 13, Ainslie's tactics were the difference. At 8-3, the score still favors New Zealand, but you get the feeling here in San Francisco that OTUSA's Australian skipper, James Spithill, along with Ainslie and their crew, are on a roll and just might pull off the biggest upset in the history of sailing. Is it destiny, or determination?

    When Spithill came strutting down the promenade at Pier 27 for the post race press conference, he looked like Popeye just after eating his spinach. He knows he has the boat and team to go all the way now. New Zealand's skipper, Dean Barker, seems to be feeling the pressure. Outwardly, he remains calm and assured, but inside this event has got to be eating away at his psyche. Barker only needs one more win on a ten-mile course to take the America's Cup back to New Zealand. Just-one-more-win! Getting it will not be easy, but is certainly possible.

    Oracle Team USA started this regatta in disarray. Their starts, tactics, boat handling and speed were way off the pace set by the Kiwis. Something changed. Larry Ellison got engaged. He visited the Team base at least two times, and got his giant machine in gear. The America's Cup trophy mysteriously appeared in front of the boat when the crew arrived after losing two races on Day One. The message was clear.

14-Press-Conference-Sept-20

     The 32 (or so) designers went to work for Ellison's sailing team. Spithill kept saying they could win races. The speeds of the boats became even. Ainslie was substituted in as tactician replacing American, John Kostecki. The move has proven to be a good one. Ainslie is getting better with every race. Ainslie knows how to win. I witnessed his relentless pursuit for victory at the Olympic Games in Weymouth last summer. Ainslie had to beat Denmark's Jonas Hogh-Christensen in the final medal race to earn his record setting 4th Gold medal (Ainslie also won a silver medal in the Olympics at the age of 19 in 1996). Ainslie had been trailing throughout the Games last summer. It took a herculean effort for him to dig out of a deep hole, and then win it all by coming from behind to beat Hogh-Christensen in the final race.

     On board USA 17, and around the waterfront, Ainslie looks like he is having a good time. Being focused yet relaxed in the heat of battle is a good combination. Racing will continue with no lay days until one boat wins nine races. OTUSA still has to win six more in a row. New Zealand only needs one. Can they do it?

    The Kiwis realize their boat is just about the same speed as USA 17. Both crews are handling the boats efficiently during maneuvers. In a long series like this one the pressure builds. The press, fans, supporters and even teammates get impatient. While the races are short, the nature of the Cup can take awhile to conclude. In 2003 it took Alinghi 16 days to defeat New Zealand. In 1983 Australia II finally defeated Liberty 4-3 after 13 days. Tomorrow's race will be Day 14. A review of Race 13 is in order.

14-So-close-yet-so-far-Sept-20    In the re-sailed race that counted, Dean Barker brilliantly won the start. He had lost three starts in a row to Spithill. The Kiwis had a five-length lead half way down Leg Two. Somehow, New Zealand's tactician, Ray Davies, allowed his boat to get in a position where the disturbed wind off the USA 17 wing slowed NZL down. Ainslie saw an opening and pounced. When the boats converged, USA 17 was on starboard; NZL was at risk on port. Just before a potential collision, Spithill sharply altered course and protested. The umpires ruled in favor of USA 17. The penalty went away because NZL was already well behind. At the time I thought NZL was clear, but a review of the AC LiveLine graphics, in slow motion, showed that the umpires made the correct call. Approaching the leeward gate, Ainslie called to jibe and switch from rounding the left gate to the right gate. Davies decided to make two costly jibes at slow speed to take the left gate. NZL was well back after that unfortunate move.

    The Kiwis had one possible opening halfway up Leg Three. In the middle of the course USA tacked on NZL. Davies could have called for a tack to get back over to the south side of the course. The wind was shifting to the left, which favored the city side. There was also a stronger ebb current along the shore line. Davies elected to use boat speed to get clear. The wind did shift to the left, and USA 17 gained. Davies’ one opportunity slipped away. While Ainslie constantly consults with Tom Slingsby about tactics, Davies is the lone tactician on his boat. Today he could have used a little help. To his credit, Dean Barker concentrates on steering and never second-guesses Davies. With the speeds of both AC 72s so even, after the start Davies is the man that has to make the correct calls.

    Missing on ETNZ today was their team leader, Grant Dalton. He might not agree with me, but his presence sure seems to help. Just saying, Grant!

    As an aside, the wind limits are a big issue here. The 23-knot wind limit (adjusted for current) was set in the interest of safety. OTUSA would like to raise the limit. New Zealand doesn't think the rules should be changed in the middle of the game. I agree with New Zealand on this point. The sailing instructions say races can be started in five knots of wind, but the boats can't sail around the five-leg, ten-mile course in under 40 minutes. Either the minimum wind speed should go up, or the time limit should be extended to 50 minutes. (New Zealand missed finishing by about 2 minutes today). During the 12-Meter era the time limit was 4.5 hours on a 23.4-mile course.

    This America's Cup is becoming one of the biggest battles in the Cup's history. The USA is getting stronger every day. Larry Ellison is on the case. Spithill is energized. Ainslie is smooth. The American boat seems to be lucky when they need it. The Kiwis are getting nervous. All 4.4 million people in New Zealand are cheering on their team. I think many of them are here in San Francisco. They need one more race. Just one. Maybe Barker, Davies and DALTON should take a line from Spithill, and declare, "We can win races." As I asked earlier, "Is it destiny or determination?" For me it is determination. If NZL wins, the Spithill strut we saw today will look more like Y.A. Tittle on his knees in the end zone after losing a championship football game. The late, great sports announcer Jim McKay described moments like this with his famous prose: "The thrill of victory, and the agony of defeat." The 34th America's Cup is sports theater at its best.

    Our coverage continues on the NBC Sports Network at 4pm Eastern (1pm Pacific). Todd Harris, Ken Read and I look forward to calling these epic races, and we hope you will be watching right along with us.

 

Photos courtesy of photographer Steven Tsuchiya.

 

 
Note 13: Wind Limits, Ebb Current and Drama PDF Print

By Gary Jobson, President
National Sailing Hall of Fame

September 19, 2013

Sept 19 2013:  OTUSA defeats ETNZ.

The champagne was on ice. Blue blazers were at the ready. But Oracle Team USA's Australian skipper James Spithill ignored everything around him except winning the start of Race 12 of the America's Cup. He steered USA 17 into the starting box at 35 knots from the favored port side. Emirates Team New Zealand was late entering from the starboard side. Kiwi skipper Dean Barker maneuvered toward the starting line early. The ebb current was beginning to flow out of San Francisco Bay. The leeward end of the line looked to be favored. Barker wanted that position but he had to kill a lot of time. Spithill stalked his prey from behind as the two boats approached the line. Barker was at risk of jumping the gun. As the clock ticked down, Spithill made his move and swept down to leeward of ETNZ to gain an overlap, or what we call a hook. Barker was to windward and had to stay clear. New Zealand tacked away while Spithill accelerated toward the first mark to win the start by four lengths. The chase was on.

    Downwind on Leg Two the boats sprinted at over 40 knots for the turning gate. The speeds seemed identical. They turned back on the wind on opposite gates for the start of Leg Three. At times the Kiwis drew even, but just could not pass. OTUSA's British tactician, Ben Ainslie, made all the correct tactical calls to keep his boat ahead. In 19 knots of wind, OTUSA attained speeds of 30 knots. The catamaran was on its foils going to windward! The USA sailed extra distance by sailing a low course to get the foils working, but the net gain was impressive. On Leg Four, the USA stretched out and easily won the race.

    The victory had to rattle Dean Barker and his crew. The score stands 8-2 at this point. If the Kiwis win one more race, they will claim the Cup. It is hard to imagine that they could lose seven in a row, at least it did a few days ago. But OTUSA is getting faster, sailing better and showing that they could achieve the unthinkable. The 34th Defense could be over after a 25-minute race, or could continue for another week. On my scorecard, both Spithill and Barker have each won six starts. At start of Race 13, Spithill gets to enter from the Port Side again.

Aug 3 2013:  Harold Bennett and Alistair McRae on the bridge of Regardless. Photo Credit Steven Tsuchiya.    During the intermission between races, the wind started to build. The ebb current was increasing, which reduced the wind limit. The Race Committee has a 23-knot wind limit that was set earlier this summer in the interest of safety. In an ebb current, the apparent wind the boats sail in increases. For example, in a two-knot ebb, the wind limit drops to 21 knots. In a flood current the wind limit would increase by two knots because the water rushing into the bay theoretically pushes the boat backward at two knots reducing the apparent wind. Regrettably, the ebb current will increase over the next few days.

   When the race committee signaled that the wind was over the limit, Ken Read and I bantered on the NBC Sports Network that we had spent many hours over the years waiting for a suitable wind to fill in so a race could get started. Now we wait for the wind to drop. There are no more scheduled lay days for the rest of the regatta. The boats will be out every day until one of them wins nine races. At the post race press conference this afternoon, Spithill said his team had written a letter to the race committee saying that raising the wind limit to 25 knots would be acceptable. Dean Barker countered that the rules had been set before the match, and his boat was set up for winds of 23 knots or less. Therefore, Barker did not think changing the rules in the middle of the regatta was fair. Hmmm…the middle of the regatta? One could argue that we are potentially at the end of the regatta. Spithill would like to think we are in the middle.

   The pressure on both teams will build. New Zealand certainly has a comfortable cushion now, but watch out if the USA wins two more races. The Kiwi design team and shore crew will feel compelled to make changes. Sometimes changes work, and sometimes they fail. OTUSA has made many small but important changes. They too have to be careful not to take a step back. Any changes always have to be coordinated with the sailing team. I bet there are some long nights going on for both teams.

    Dean Barker seems calm on the boat, and around the waterfront. Jimmy Spithill looks to be on fire every time I see him. Both will be well prepared for Race 13. If Oracle Team USA wins the first race, it sure would be nice to see a second race on the same day. Our television audience is growing daily. The drama is building too. We have never seen boats this fast in such a high stakes regatta.

    Tune in to the NBC Sports Network at 4 pm Eastern time, (1 pm Pacific time) and we will take you aboard for the on going battle for the oldest trophy in international sports.

Photos courtesy of photographer Steven Tsuchiya.

 

 
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