AC34: Oracle Battles from the Ropes

Refusing to end the day winless, Oracle Team USA strings together a much needed Race 4 victory.

Sailing World

AC34 Race 4

While leading Race 4, one frightening touchdown gave Oracle fans pause.Giles Martin-Raget/ACEA

Race 3 of the 34th America’s Cup was the race of the regatta thus far. With the westerly winds inching toward the upper ranges of the wind limit, the sailing was in full anger, and so too was skipper Jimmy Spithill, the tenacious redhead of Oracle Team USA who was hell bent on not being shut out for the second day.

Whatever Spithill's coach, Phillippe Presti, did to re-sharpen his focus in the pre-starts appeared to work because Spithill came off the line on time in the first start with great pace, setting them up a strong leeward position at Mark 1. A textbook luff passed a penalty to Emirates Team New Zealand (although Barker later said they didn't realize they had a penalty), and off they went, tearing down the run, leading for the first time in the regatta and building a 17-second lead at the bottom of the course. Umpire Replay

But here’s where the New Zealanders came on strong, methodically picking apart Oracle’s lead in a high-paced tacking duel up the City Front, ultimately using the course boundary to their tactical advantage. Spithill admits that tacking is not OTUSA’s greatest strength while the Kiwis have shown consistently faster tacks thus far. They can’t afford to engage in tacking duels.

“We had to chop down a bit of a deficit at the bottom, but felt the boat was going well up the beat,” said ETNZ’s Dean Barker in the day’s post-race press conference. “We felt we were locked in well. We sort of took a couple of opportunities and the next thing we found ourselves back in the race. The boundary can work for you or against you. In this case it worked for us and turned the control and we were able to extend from that.”

And extend they did, winning the first race by a comfortable 28 seconds.

The second start belonged to Oracle Team USA once again. With a precision long-distance approach to the starting line they crossed the line at foiling speed got to Mark 1 first. Finally in a position to more effectively defend their lead they were able to sail the around the course faster than they had been in the previous three races. “Emirates Team New Zealand is gaining on the tacks on us,” said tactician John Kostecki, “so we were looking at playing the favored side and tacking where we’d have the fastest track to the windward mark.”

Despite a few tense moments and one daggerboard issue that saw the black boat some crashing down to the surface in a veil of spray, Spithill kept his cool and contained the Kiwis with a top speed of the day (45.97 knots) for an 8-second win. It was a win the team desperately needed.

"We were fired up and disappointed with the first one," said Spithill after racing. "It slipped through our fingers. It was a real sign of strength of the guy to bounce back after loosing three in a row. A lesser team would have crumbled in the fourth race."
For his part, Barker wasn't fazed by the narrow defeat as his team still sits comfortably ahead in the overall standings 3 to -1.

“We could have done things a lot better than we did,” said Barker. “We sailed a pretty average race [in the second one] and we were still pretty close in the end. We’re happy with how the boat is going and just need to eliminate the mistakes.”

Race 3 Performance Data

  • Course: 5 Legs/9.94 nautical miles
  • Elapsed Time: ETNZ – 25:00, OTUSA – 25:28
  • Delta: ETNZ +:28
  • Total distance sailed: ETNZ – 11.8 NM, OTUSA – 12.1 NM
  • Average Speed: ETNZ – 28.57 knots (33 mph), OTUSA – 28.62 knots (33 mph)
  • Top Speed: ETNZ – 42.25 knots (49 mph), OTUSA – 41.37 knots (48 mph)
  • Windspeed: Average – 16.8 knots, Peak – 19.3 knots

Race 4 Performance Data

  • Course: 5 Legs/9.94 nautical miles
  • Elapsed Time: OTUSA – 22:42, ETNZ – 22:50
  • Delta: OTUSA +:08
  • Total distance sailed: OTUSA – 11.7 NM, ETNZ – 11.7 NM
  • Average Speed: OTUSA – 30.99 knots (36 mph), ETNZ – 30.92 knots (36 mph)
  • Top Speed: OTUSA – 45.97 knots (53 mph), ETNZ – 44.98 knots (52 mph)
  • Windspeed: Average – 19.5 knots, Peak – 23.3 knots