Oracle Dominates in Light Winds, Gets First Point

Stuart Streuli

It's been three and a half months since Russell Coutts trailed a boat across the finish line. It almost happened on Wednesday as Coutts' Alinghi team trailed Oracle/BMW Racing for the second half of the race only to be saved by a penalty Oracle picked up during a luffing duel. Today, however, Alinghi had no cards to play at the end as Oracle, with Chris Dickson calling the tactics and Peter Holmberg on the helm, whipped the Swiss team by 2:13. The win saved Oracle from falling into a 4-0 hole, a deficit that's never been erased in America's Cup history, and gave the team a terrific boost of confidence after three discouraging losses. "We're glad to get the point," said Oracle navigator Ian Burns. "It was very fluky conditions, so I don't know if we fully earned it. But it was good to get the monkey off our back."

For the second day in a row, Louis Vuitton Cup PRO Peter Reggio was forced to put up the postponement flag for an extended period. Finally a southerly sea breeze--which comes off the Tasman Sea and over the Auckland isthmus--filled and the race started in 9 knots from 180 degrees. The two boats entered into an extended dial-up with Oracle, which entered from the pin side, able to stay ahead and then fall back down on the port and cross over the top of Alinghi. From there Holmberg and company nailed their time-on-distance measurements and started right at the pin with Alinghi to windward and slightly behind. Alinghi peeled off and then came back on starboard a half-dozen boatlengths to windward. Oracle looked like they were positioning themselves for a left shift, on that Alinghi tactician Brad Butterworth was also expecting, but instead a righty rolled through and Alinghi quickly extended to a lead that reached 110 meters. As the boats moved up the course, closer to Rangitoto Island, the wind got quite unsettled and Oracle was able to close the gap and trailed by 38 seconds at the first windward mark.

Oracle’s big break came on the first downwind leg, as Alinghi allowed Holmberg to jibe away to the left side of the course while Coutts and company, flying a staysail in the light air, continued on port. The wind continued to lighten, especially on the right side, and clock further toward the west. At one point Oracle tried jibe back but botched the maneuver and had to sail on starboard for a little while longer. This proved to be a pivotal bit of luck as the boats separated by a much as a mile and Oracle was able use that leverage and a right-hand wind shift to turn their half-minute deficit into a 56-second lead around the first leeward mark. "When we rounded the top mark we were aiming at the leeward mark," said Brad Butterworth, "so we were feeling confident. They got a nice puff and they jibed. Probably we should’ve jibed."

The wind dropped as low a 5 knots on the second upwind leg, before shifting to the southwest and building again. Oracle’s lead dwindled to a few boatlengths as the boats raced to get to the new breeze, but Dickson and Holmberg were able to stay between Alinghi and the mark and, in the second key move of the race, forced Alinghi to overstand the mark by a significant amount. The sum total of the second upwind leg was a one-second gain for Oracle, but what they didn’t lose was the most important part of that leg. From there Oracle maintained a loose cover the rest of the way around the track. Alinghi never threatened the rest of the way.

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| Stuart Streuli|

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| The wind got soft and shifty on the first downwind leg, and Oracle was able to build a lead of a minute by the first leeward mark rounding (above).* * *|

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Oracle’s finish was greeted by a cacophony of horns from the spectator fleet, acknowledging the team’s resilient attitude, and the prospect of a competitive Louis Vuitton Final. Of course, Ellison’s crew is still in a 3-1 hole and tomorrow’s race is almost as important as today’s. But with a southerly wind direction forecasted for the next few days, and Oracle looking very strong in the moderate winds and flat water that usually accompany that wind direction, things are suddenly looking significantly brighter for the American syndicate.

Race Statistics, Race IV
Breeze, 5 to 13 knots, from 180 degrees to 240 degrees
Alinghi approached from starboard, Oracle approached from port
Course Deltas:
Oracle won the start
1st mark: Alinghi by 38 seconds
2nd mark: Oracle by 56 seconds
3rd mark: Oracle by 57 seconds
4th mark: Oracle by 2:34
5th mark: Oracle by 2:13
Finish: Oracle by 2:13