Oracle Team USA clinched the America’s Cup in a winner-take-all race over Emirates Team New Zealand on Wednesday that capped an epic comeback destined for sports history books.
The defending champions crossed the finish 44 seconds ahead of challenger New Zealand, notching an unprecedented eight wins in a row and keeping possession of yachting’s coveted prize with a 9-8 victory.
“Man oh man, what a race,” said USA skipper Jimmy Spithill. “It was a fantastic race.
“We wouldn’t have done it any other way. To come from behind, man these guys just showed so much heart.”
Cheers erupted from flag-waving fans on shore of San Francisco Bay and the US team exchanged hugs as the catamaran zipped past the pier next to the finish.
Billionaire yachtsman Larry Ellison, owner of the US team, hopped on board from a chase boat and took part in popping the champagne.
“Facing the barrel of the gun at 8-1 and what do these guys do? They didn’t even flinch,” Spithill said. “It just showed so much heart.
“Look it really is about the team. On your own you are nothing but when you got a team like this around you, they can make you look great and they did all of that today and the whole series. I am just so proud of the boys.”
The rivals crossed the start of Race 19 almost even, and the Kiwis slipped around the first marker with a lead as the American’s flubbed the turn, dunking their bow.
New Zealand defended a narrow lead around the next marker and into the critical upwind third leg.
The American’s split the course and engaged in a tacking duel that ended with the defending champion seizing a lead that grew all the way to the finish.
Spithill joked about the nose dive afterwards saying it added some extra drama to the race.
“We thought we would make it exciting,” he said.
The dramatic win culminated an epic rally by the Americans, who battled back from seven points down while the Kiwis were poised on match point.
“Hollywood would have said this is not possible; it’s an unbelievable script,” regatta director Iain Murray said of the riveting drama played out on the Bay.
The Kiwis struggled for seven days on match point, with victory staved off by Oracle and fickle winds that caused races to be postponed or abandoned.
Adding to New Zealand’s frustration, it had solid leads in two races that were abandoned, one because of too much wind and another because of too little.
The regatta stretched to 19 days, the longest in the 162-year history of the America’s Cup.
And with every day of the American comeback, crowds grew on the shoreline.
What had been a sea of New Zealand flags became a flood of fervent fans waving the stars-and-stripes.
For the first time in the regatta, the Cup park set up on a pier at the finish line was packed to the limit and those arriving close to the start were told to watch from elsewhere on the shoreline.
Alan Kramer said he swept his work calendar clean after seeing the second race on Tuesday and spent US$45 on a ticket to watch the do-or-die race from a boat in the bay.
“I began watching the replays on YouTube and just got sucked into it so here I am,” Kramer said.
“It is a great,” he continued. “Confidence and competition and technology as well.”
Speedy AC72 catamarans dueled with daring high-speed tacks in weeks of dramatic on-water theatre that left many spectators wondering how the regatta could ever go back to using comparatively sluggish mono-hull yachts.
The move by Ellison to use the hi-tech catamarans with towering main sails akin to jet wings was blasted with criticism before the regatta but exhilarating racing has won over legions of fans.
“It’s been something we have never seen before, how fast it goes,” said Murray.
“I think the AC72s have found a sweet spot with the people,” he continued. “They were challenging, exciting, and provided a great platform for these races.”
Murray was “hopeful” that the AC72s would return to the regatta.
The America’s Cup, first contested in 1851, had been held since 2010 by Oracle team owner Ellison.
The technology industry titan, whose personal fortune is estimated at some US$40 billion beat the giant Swiss catamaran Alinghi 2-0 three years ago in Valencia, Spain, with a 30-metre-long rigid wing trimaran.
Ellison brought the regatta to San Francisco, setting it “in-shore” on the San Francisco Bay to make it a captivating spectator sport.