By Gary Jobson, President
National Sailing Hall of Fame
September 8, 2013
When Oracle Team USA's sailors and shore crew arrived at their compound at Pier 80 early this morning, the America's Cup trophy was sitting on a pedestal in front of the AC 72. No one knew how it got there. But, it was an inspirational reminder of their mission. The sailing team looked fired up for Day Two of the America's Cup, even though they lost both races yesterday. Everyone around the waterfront in San Francisco was wondering how the American team could turn things around?
And, just like that, Day Two of the 34th America's Cup defense became a thriller for the sailors and their fans. Emirates Team New Zealand and Oracle Team USA each won a hard fought battle that included brilliant tactics, breathtaking speed, and some mistakes too. In my AC Report 5, I predicated that the USA would win the match after a close battle. Following yesterday's racing that pronouncement looked mighty suspect, but not anymore. Either team can win this regatta.
In Race Three, OTUSA was fouled by ETNZ at the first turning mark. The penalty was quickly absolved. The chase was on. These boats can very quickly separate by a few hundred yards. The boats seem far apart but that distance can be made up with a single gust of wind. At times the boats sail at remarkably even speeds, and occasionally New Zealand looks faster. It is rare that the American boat has a speed advantage. At the end of Leg Two the USA held a slim lead. Sailing upwind against the tide NZL started to gain on each tack. Oracle's tactician, National Sailing Hall of Famer John Kostecki, worked to match every move the Kiwis made. The big moment of the pass came as the two boats closed on the boundary along the city front near Pier 39. New Zealand tacked onto port, as did the USA. But the American crew was slow to accelerate and lost control of the race. Kiwi tactician, Ray Davies was masterfully managing his boat's position on the racecourse. This guy is a joy to watch. He is clever and rarely makes a mistake. New Zealand sailed away for their third win.
Just 32 minutes later the second race of the day started. Oracle Team USA's Australian skipper, Jimmy Spithill, timed the line perfectly and took the lead. He held the Kiwis high on the first part of the short reach leg and then bore away for a beautifully executed rounding. Downwind the boats were about even. At the leeward gate NZL closed. It looked like the Kiwis might be able to pass again early on the beat to windward. This time, Kostecki told Spithill to sail a more strategic race as if there were 20 boats on the course. OTUSA wanted to avoid the close quarters battle that did them in the previous race. It was a good call. The USA held the lead at Mark 3. At the final turning mark NZL closed to within five seconds. At 40 knots, that equates to about four to five boat lengths. Oracle Team USA crossed the line eight seconds ahead of Emirates Team New Zealand and received a thunderous ovation from thousands of people on the shore line.
Monday is a lay day. Both teams will spend the time analyzing the performance of their boats, look for ways to increase speed and plan their tactics for the next round of races. New Zealand seems to have an edge at times, but not always. In strong winds of 23 knots toward the end of Race 4 the USA really looked strong. Winning a race after losing three certainly gives OTUSA a big boost of confidence going forward. New Zealand needs to stay aggressive. If Dean Barker can win the start, he will be hard to pass. James Spithill knows how important it is to get the jump at the gun. The pair has each won two starts. New Zealand needs to win 6 more races, while the USA needs to win 10 more. Based on the two races we saw today, this America's Cup is going to extend for some time before someone wins.
Every race will be carried live on the NBC Sports Network starting at 1pm Pacific time (4 pm Eastern) on Sept 10, 12, 14, and 15. My partners Todd Harris and Ken Read and I look forward to explaining the action. Hold on tight; there are some good races ahead.
By Gary Jobson, President
National Sailing Hall of Fame
September 7, 2013
One day doth not an America's Cup make, but it sure was an eye opener. Emirates Team New Zealand completely dominated Oracle Team USA in the first two races of the 34th America's Cup defense. The most interesting thing for me was watching the body language and attitude onboard the American boat as they began to realize that their AC72 was off the pace compared to the challenger. Oracle's design team will work hard to find ways to increase the speed of their boat, however one has to believe each boat started the series with their best equipment. Simultaneously, the sailors and their coaches need to take a critical look at their sailing performance. The USA was off in just about every aspect of the race.
Oracle's skipper Australian Jimmy Spithill is known as a very aggressive starter. In Race One he did not engage New Zealand at any time during the two-minute pre-start. From my vantage point on the Race Committee boat, Regardless, it was obvious that it was advantageous to start at the windward end of the line with a one knot flood current. New Zealand's skipper Dean Barker timed it perfectly at the windward end, accelerated and easily sailed into the lead. Downwind, the strength of the wind seemed to lighten as they headed for the turning gate. It was close. The Kiwis made a mistake by misjudging the lay line and made an extra jibe. As Barker turned the mark, he headed too high. Spithill was less than one length behind and by sailing a lower and faster course he gained an overlap. Barker tacked away to stay clear. The New Zealand boat was slow going into the tack, and slower coming out of it. Oracle Team USA took the lead.
I think everyone on the San Francisco shoreline and aboard the 300-boat spectator fleet was cheering. Not because the USA had the lead, but for the first time in this America's Cup, we actually had a real race. The wind dropped to about 13 knots. The speeds between the boats looked even. As they worked their way to windward in the flood tide, the breeze filled in to 17 knots and the Kiwis took off. It was an impressive display of speed. From that point the Kiwis sailed away and easily won the first race.
Throughout the day there were at least 7 protests by the two boats. The umpires gave each incident a green flag, signaling no foul. Before the second race, Spithill and tactician John Kostecki discussed not sailing the second race. Apparently, there was some de-lamination on the wing sail. Each boat is allowed to postpone one race in the series. Kostecki thought it was too early in the series for a time out, and Oracle decided to race. During the second start, the boats might have touched at one close encounter. Spithill looked to be in good shape with 25 seconds to go. But Barker did a better job accelerating, had the windward end again, and took an early lead. This time the USA never challenged. It quickly became a parade.
We still have a lot of racing ahead of us.
The Kiwis need to win seven more. Oracle Team USA needs to win eleven races. Normally, you must win nine races in a 17 race series. But OTUSA was docked two points for cheating during the America's Cup World Series last year with two of their AC 45-footers. As part of the penalty, wing trimmer Dirk de Ridder was disqualified for this America's Cup. He was the person who illegally altered the boats to give them more speed. Three other team members were also disqualified for the Cup. The International Jury gave the American team the appropriate penalty for their ill-advised transgressions. Dirk de Ridder's replacement, Kyle Langford, did not look to be in sync with Spithill during the race, particularly during maneuvers.
Sunday is another day. Spithill could easily take the starts. He and Langford will certainly get better with more sailing. Their speed, however, is a major problem. If the wind is under 14 the USA can make it close. When the wind builds the Kiwis look fast, and they maneuver with greater efficiency. It would be fun to be a fly on the wall over at the USA camp and listen in to what Syndicate owner Larry Ellison and his CEO Russell Coutts are saying. There is still plenty of time to turn this around, but the USA better come out swinging on Sunday, or this America's Cup will be over soon, and the trophy will be on a plane back to the City of Sails, Auckland, New Zealand.
Todd Harris, Ken Read and I will call the race action tomorrow on NBC at 4pm ET (1pm PT) live from San Francisco.