New Zealanders need just two more wins to clinch America's Cup yachting

Kiwi challengers have so far handled the astonishing speed and thrust of the futuristic catamarans better in San Francisco Bay

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 17 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 17 September, 2013, 5:58am

When Larry Ellison and Russell Coutts sketched out their vision of their new-age America's Cup, the final draft must have looked very much like the latest race.

Two raptor-like catamarans matching each other's moves at speeds exceeding 40 knots downwind and an astonishing 30 knots upwind with, in the end, only 16 seconds separating them after 10 nautical miles of jousting over the waves.

The catamarans were doing all this close to shore with a big crowd watching in the San Francisco sunshine and with a large spectator fleet rounding out the numbers in the choppy waters beyond Alcatraz Island.

"That was the dream," said Iain Murray, the America's Cup regatta director of the race. "I'm just happy that people can understand now. Some people can get a vision and some people can read three dimensional plans and some people can't, and to see it in real life and in front of TV and for everyone to see it, I'm just gratified. I'm just happy that people can understand what this has been all about."

The big thrills are coming late in this long-underwhelming cup, probably much too late to build a significant new audience for the sport or to make San Franciscans shift their gaze from updates on the 49ers.

As spectacular as Sunday's second race proved to be in strong winds and an ebb tide, this was still not quite the vision that Ellison and Coutts had of the America's Cup in San Francisco Bay.

Emirates Team New Zealand, not Oracle Team USA, were the winner sby 16 seconds, and although Oracle have shown clear and significant improvements in the last few days, Team New Zealand are now on the verge of wresting the America's Cup from Ellison and the Golden Gate Yacht Club and carrying it back in triumph to Auckland.

After splitting Sunday's two races, Team New Zealand lead Oracle 7-1, and, after a rest day yesterday, will close out the victory if they can sweep both races scheduled for today. As for Oracle, hit with a two-race penalty before this final series began, they must win eight of nine races if they are to retain the cup.

"It was very important to bounce back after" the first race [on Sunday], said Dean Barker, Team New Zealand's skipper and helmsman. "I think if you didn't enjoy today's racing, you probably should watch another sport."

The New Zealanders still have a very comfortable lead. But sailing is a momentum game, and the Kiwis appeared in danger of losing it after nearly capsizing on Saturday and losing race eight to Oracle, and then losing race nine on Sunday without ever getting into the lead.

Team New Zealand are not dominating the upwind legs as they did earlier in the regatta, and Oracle appear to have benefited as well from the mid-series decision to replace veteran American tactician John Kostecki with British Olympic star Ben Ainslie.

But with race 10 and quite possibly the cup in the balance on Sunday afternoon, Ainslie and the rest of the Oracle brain trust could not find a way to get ahead of Team New Zealand for good.

"The boats are just so close in performance both upwind and downwind," said Glenn Ashby, Team New Zealand's wing trimmer. "It really comes down to a good old ding-dong, trench warfare, touch-your-bayonet sort of yachting, and that's fantastic to be a part of."

A key decision in the future will be whether these stirring, futuristic racing machines be abandoned for the slower monohulls that have traditionally been used in the cup?

"I was sceptical they could be used for match racing," said Bruno Troubli, the former French America's Cup helmsman. "I knew these boats were great for fleet racing but not for match racing. But match racing when they are equal like today is amazing. It will be difficult to go back."

The New York Times