After months of waiting, Oracle USA and Emirates Team New Zealand are finally providing the kind of racing Larry Ellison promised so very long ago.
On the downside, his defending team looks to be in some trouble, despite the fact they’ve made the Kiwis finally have to work for their victories. But then again, if there’s anybody out there with enough talent and guts to pull off what at this point would have to be one of the great upsets in America’s Cup history, it’s Oracle USA skipper Jimmy Spithill.
Granted he’s without his No. 1 wing trimmer, thanks to the penalty his team incurred for cheating during the America’s Cup World Series. Granted, he has to win two victories to even get back to zero thanks to that same ruling. But on Sunday he did something no other skipper has been able to do thus far in the 34th Cup—beat Emirates Team New Zealand and skipper Dean Barker.
And now that he’s done it once, who’s to say he won’t be able to do it again, with regularity even.
The competition this past weekend started off with a close-quarters starting sequence, and the intensity level remained at a fever pitch throughout. The delta at the first bear-away in the first race was mere seconds, and in contrast to every other race thus far this summer, it was the same when the two boats reached the leeward mark only a few short minutes later.
After that, Cup fans had a chance to enjoy something else they had yet to see this summer—not one but two passes on the subsequent windward leg, as Oracle first overtook ETNZ, and then the Kiwis regained their lead. Ultimately, it was ETNZ by about 30 seconds at the finish, but it was clear this series not going to be another shellacking like that experienced by Artemis and the Luna Rossa.
The second race also started close, but superior boathandling on the windward leg—basically the Kiwis came out of each of tack much faster than Oracle—allowed ETNZ to establish a lead that it then stretched out to a delta of nearly a minute at the finish. Still, the tens of thousands of fan who came down to the waterfront to watch the show could finally go away feeling like they’d seen some real racing. To see the first two races, click here
The day, although foggy, saw the racing heat up right away in a stiff breeze, with Oracle not only rounding the bear-away mark in first place, but putting a penalty on ETNZ in the process. In the end it was once again ETNZ finishing in first, thanks to superior boat speed on the part of the Kiwis upwind, but there was now no doubt Jimmy Spithill is far from convinced his opponent was invincible. There was also plenty of close-quarters action early on—luffing attacks, tacking duels, spectacular boathandling—of the kind fans have been waiting for all summer, and which truly rivals that of America’s Cups past. Anybody who wasn’t excited by the 34th America’s at this point, simply wasn’t paying attention.
Finally, it was time for race number four. Once again, it was Oracle making it to the first bear-away mark ahead, after taking ETNZ up dramatically to windward, and this time Spithill was not to be denied.
At the leeward mark it was still Oracle in the lead despite a lousy jibe immediately before the rounding, followed by a nail-biter of a windward leg, with the two boats often sailing within mere feet of one another. After that came a second downwind leg with the Kiwis drawing ever closer, slowly chipping away at the 16-second delta at the top mark, followed by what was literally a drag race to the finish, with thousands race fans waiting at the finish. To see all of races 3 and 4, click here “It was huge, huge,” Spithill said afterward of his team’s first victory. “It’s good to see the team under some serious pressure, especially after the first race. We had the lead, we let it slip away. A lesser team probably would’ve crumbled in the fourth race. It feels good to shift momentum over to us.”
The next two races are scheduled to take place this Tuesday. I for one can hardly wait.