Races 1 and 2 belonged to Team New Zealand from start to finish, and even with a few major boathandling slipups themselves, the Kiwis were simply too fast around the track to allow Oracle Team USA to capitalize on mistakes and turn the tide. Skipper Jimmy Spithill and Co. were unpolished and it showed right from the get-go.
Take the opening start, for example. As Oracle Team USA inched closer and closer to the staring line in the final minute, defending against an Emirates Team New Zealand hook, onboard communications reiterated several times how close they were. With 45 seconds remaining they were already in trouble, and at the start, Oracle’s red bows were just over. In a heartbeat the Kiwis were already up and going, sprinting away at 22 knots and Oracle trimming on to half that. Mr. Spithill would later state that it was a software issue that caused them to lose track of their time and distance, an issue the team would sort out tonight.
Regardless, they got caught slow and never recovered. Let the mistakes begin.
Team New Zealand was faster. Period.
On the first downwind leg, the Kiwis streaked away, sailing lower and faster — a good 2 knots faster. On the following upwind leg, boatspeed differences occasionally hit double digits as Team New Zealand flew through tacks and stuck to conservative loose cover strategy. At Mark 4 the difference was 46 seconds, Mark 5 it was pushed to 2 minutes as Oracle sailed into a light patch and Kiwis foiled away toward the finish.
The difference, 30.2 seconds in the end, and with that, Emirates Team New Zealand wiped away Oracle’s 1-point bonus, which they carried into the match by winning the Louis Vuitton America’s Cup Challenger round robins. The Match score now stood even at zip-zip.
Oracle regrouped and appeared to control the second start of the day, but then allowed the New Zealanders enough space to escape and get out front again at the start of Race 2. Four seconds separated the two as they rounded Mark 1, and as both teams jibed at the boundary, the build speed was remarkably different. Emirates whipped through the jibe without pause and accelerated away 5 knots faster, and on layline to the gate.
After splitting at the gate the delta was roughly 140 meters and again Emirates Team New Zealand played its loose cover well, with Mr. Burling regularly looking over his shoulder to check on his competitor. As in the earlier race, better upwind speeds went to Emirates Team New Zealand. Higher and faster, lower and faster, the mode didn’t seem to matter. Their kinked and high-angle foils are weapons in light winds. In one tack alone, Emirates built to 25 knots immediately while Oracle struggled to get to 15.
With a Gate 3 delta of 1 minute 06 seconds it appeared to be another drubbing in the making. Gate 4: 1 minute 35 seconds. Cue the yawns and looks of disbelief throughout the media center.
There’s never a dull moment from the Emirates Team New Zealand, which sailed boundary to boundary up the beat, out of phase and riding headers each way, while Oracle lifted practically straight up the race track. When the American boat came into Mark 5 from the left-hand boundary they had a bite-size piece of the New Zealanders who were streaming into the gate on starboard tack. The New Zealanders spun into a rushed tack, got slow and left themselves prone to an Oracle hook inside the zone.
The cyclors pounded away on their bikes and wing trimmer Glen Ashby worked his magic on the coveted wing to get the boat lifted and going, just in the nick of time, with barely a meter between them, before bearing away around the right-hand gate mark.
Oracle was hot on their transoms, with 32 meters between them and ready to pounce. They were one critical jibe away from making it a race again, but Mr. Spithill turned through the jibe, the tell-tale splashdown followed and the black and red boat parked. The Kiwis glided through their jibe and streaked away. A stat flashed onto worldwide broadcast for all to see: 278 meters lost in the jibe.
In our story from yesterday (America’s Cup: Even the Score), Artemis Racing Team coach Tom Burnham explained what can happen in a short sequence of maneuvers: “You can’t come out of a tack and do all sorts of things to your wing, change your jib tension, move your leads and everything else, and then expect to tack 20 seconds later, because there’s nothing left.”
When Burnham says “there’s nothing left,” he’s referring to hydraulic pressure to force the boards and the wing through maneuvers, and so perhaps, between the tack, to the attempted hook, and through the bearaway, there was nothing left in the tank. It had all the makings of a rushed jibe.
When I asked in the press conference, Spithill stated it wasn’t an oil issue, however. “I don’t think oil was a problem, and obviously we need to go back and see what happened on that one, but I think what happened was that we lost the rudder. We’ll go back and see what happened in that key moment of the race.”
It will be one of many mistakes they’ll go back and look at, as will Emirates Team New Zealand, particularly with what went wrong on its jibe into the finish of Race 2. As they had in their nail biter final race of the Louis Vuitton Playoff against Artemis Racing Team a few days ago, the Kiwis flubbed an easy jibe through the final gate and sat parked, bows pointed the finish but going nowhere fast. With Oracle steaming in at full bore it looked for a moment to be another potential turnover, but as with the weather mark minutes earlier, the cyclors got cranking and the boat was up to speed at 25 knots.
Mr. Spithill stated in the press conference that there was nothing for the media to speculate in terms of boatspeed differences between the two because of the light and patchy winds, but there is much speculation around the America’s Cup race village when it comes to a potential Kiwi sweep.
The New Zealand spirt is alive in the village because the base is part of it, and for black-shirted, flag-waving and enduring fans and spectators, the opportunity to get to see them up close is only fueling their enthusiasm. Oracle, meanwhile, remains in isolation across the way at their base, where, as they prefer, they go about their business. They’ve been here before — remember San Francisco — and it is early days yet.
There’s much more to come, and while Burling and Co., are one up on the scoreboard, they are exactly where they want to be. Even Emirates Team New Zealand figurehead Grant Dalton, walking past cheering fans back ashore after racing, had little more to say than, “That was a good day” with a grin, ear to ear.
It was a good day indeed for Kiwi fans who know all too well how fortunes can turn.