AC34: No Defense to the Challenge

Races 6 and 7 go to Emirates Team New Zealand, putting the scoreline at 6 to -1, and setting up a potential weekend finale.

Sailing World

AC34: Races 6 and 7

Jimmy Spithill refuses to admit defeat and says the fight is far from over.Carlo Borlenghi

Emirates Team New Zealand has made it perfectly clear they are the faster, more polished team of America's Cup 34. They're almost unbeatable. It's the "almost" that skipper Jimmy Spithill continues to spin to reporters at the post-race press conferences. As he continues to fend criticism of his struggling defense, he points out that the series is not a Kiwi sweep and that there's still hope yet. From here on in they remain focused on a comeback.

“We’ve shown we can win a race,” he says, “and that’s what we intend to do. They almost have it in the bag, but imagine if these guys lost from here—what an upset it would be. That’s my motivation. That would be one hell of a comeback and that’s the kind of thing that I’d like to be part of. I’ve been part of some big fight backs and that’s our motivation going into the rest of the series. We’ve got just as much of a chance to win this and we’ll do everything we can.”

“Everything” so far has included overnight modifications to the team’s daggerboards, and more importantly, sacking the team’s longtime local tactician John Kostecki for today’s Races 6 and 7, rotating backup helmsman Ben Ainslie into the tactician’s seat. While Oracle Team USA may have sailed a far more tactically sound race than that of Race 5, the afterguard change didn’t make a difference in the end today. The New Zealanders dominated the American’s on the first beat (Leg 3), just as they have in six of seven races.

Spithill got the better of Barker in the Race 6 prestart (or was it that the New Zealanders simply went a length or two too deep into the starting box) and immediately extended off the starting line to lead at Mark 1 by 8 seconds—their largest lead yet of the series. Good coverage down the run kept it close, but meter-by-meter the New Zealanders started carving bites out of Oracle’s lead. After a few crossed jibes, the New Zealanders set up for the left gate (looking downwind), rounded clean, and headed straight for the Alcatraz Cone while Oracle went for the right gate to work the edge of the cone. This first split of the race set up the Kiwis well. To carry on starboard and tack on ETNZ’s hip was the right move from Oracle’s playbook, but once Emirates Team New Zealand engaged them in an outer-boundary tacking duel, the beat down commenced. “We’re gaining every time,” said Ray Davies as they faced them for the 13th time further up the beat. At the weather mark the lead was a gaping 200 meters, and the race was done.

Race 7’s start was time-on-distance perfection for Emirates Team New Zealand, which looked extremely poised in pre-start warm up time, continuously knocking out practice runs while the defender idled nearby with its tender alongside. It was as if skipper Dean Barker was eager to get this one start right and make one final point on the day. As the starting gun fired, the New Zealanders were crossing the weather end at 40 knots; Oracle to leeward still building speed at 35. From my view onboard the race committee boat, it looked as if ETNZ were literally on the line. Regatta director Iain Murray, also onboard, said, “When they review it later, they’ll see that they were probably a foot off the line. I wouldn’t get any closer than that. That’s as good as you’ll get.”

From there on, Oracle had nothing in its arsenal to get past the Kiwis and the final delta was 1:08.

It was perhaps the easiest win for Barker and Co., and put them 6 to -1 in the series, but wing trimmer, Glen Ashby, says they’re not about to ease off on the pressure. “The boats are very complicated and things can go wrong at the drop of the hat,” he said after racing. “There’s no place for conservatism in these campaigns in the actually sailing of the boats themselves. You have to keep pushing hard. We are pushing the boat as hard as we can, and we’ll do it until it’s over.”

Spithill, again taking a beating at the press conference, defended his decision to bench Kostecki, and said that he agreed to the change out, immediately bringing Ainslie up to speed. “It was a matter of shuffling things up,” said Spithill. “If you have depth on the bench you have to mix it up. Ben and John are two of the best in the world.”

To which Barker quipped with a smile, “Yeah, the other thing is there are a few gold medals swinging around in the back of the boat there so hopefully you don’t get tangled up in those.”

With a lay day on the schedule Spithill was unsure whether the team would be out practicing once again on Friday—that would depend on any major modifications to the boat, modifications that he would not specify.

“We’re going to fight the whole way, go out and race like we can win. We have some options to make changes to the boat. We’ll have to be pretty aggressive. We know we can win races. We’ve had the same conditions and they have an edge upwind, but there’s still the light-air end of the spectrum. We haven’t see the code zeros. It’s not yet over in my mind.”

And then, of course, there’s the willing of a miracle on the bay. “Imagine if these guys lost from here, what an upset it would be,” said Spithill. “That’s my motivation—that’s would be one hell of a comeback and that’s the kind of thing that I’d like to be part of. I’ve been part of some big fight backs and that’s our motivation going into the rest of the series; we’ve got just as much of a chance to win this and we’ll do everything we can.”

With three more races for the New Zealanders to win, it would be a miracle indeed, but the sentiment around the America’s Cup Park that miracles and karma don’t always go hand-in-hand.

RACE 6 DATA
Course: 5 Legs/10.14 nautical miles
Elapsed Time: ETNZ – 31:39, OTUSA – 32:26
Delta: ETNZ +:47
Total distance sailed: ETNZ – 12.3 NM, OTUSA – 12.3 NM
Average Speed: ETNZ – 23.43 knots (27 mph), OTUSA – 22.91 knots (26 mph)
Top Speed: ETNZ – 38.55 knots (44 mph), OTUSA – 40.21 knots (46 mph)
Windspeed: Average – 11.6 knots, Peak – 13.4 knots

RACE 7 DATA
Course: 5 Legs/10.14 nautical miles
Elapsed Time: ETNZ – 24:48, OTUSA – 25:54
Delta: ETNZ +1:06
Total distance sailed: ETNZ – 11.6 NM, OTUSA – 12.0 NM
Average Speed: ETNZ – 28.32 knots (32 mph), OTUSA – 27.86 knots (32 mph)
Top Speed: ETNZ – 44.73 knots (51 mph), OTUSA – 41.00 knots (47 mph)
Windspeed: Average – 16.3 knots, Peak – 17.8 knots