Kiwis close within 1 win of America’s Cup

Published: Thursday, Sept. 19, 2013 11:22 a.m. CDT

(Continued from Page 2)

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — The America’s Cup is staying in America for at least one more day, thanks to the wind that blows in through the Golden Gate Bridge and the strong tide that flows out to sea.

That means, of course, that all those bottles of champagne that New Zealanders have at the ready won’t be popped open quite yet.

Not long after Emirates Team New Zealand won Race 11 Wednesday to reach match point in the America’s Cup against powerhouse Oracle Team USA, Race 12 was postponed because the wind exceeded the safety limit.

Race 12 was scrubbed just 30 seconds before the high-performance, 72-foot catamarans crossed the starting line with Kiwi skipper Dean Barker holding a strong advantage over rival Jimmy Spithill.

Organizers will try again on Thursday to get in two races, if necessary. Of the four races scheduled Tuesday and Wednesday, three were postponed due to the wind exceeding the limit.

The Kiwis last hoisted the Auld Mug in victory in 2000, so they can wait at least one more day for the chance to finish off Oracle.

Leading 8-1, the Kiwis need one more win to reclaim the Auld Mug for the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron.

“We just go out and try and race hard,” Barker said, understated as always. “If we can get a win, that’ll be great.”

Kiwi tactician Ray Davies was a bit more expansive.

“Obviously we’re in an extremely strong situation,” Davies said. “We are one race away, but that same one race will be the same approach we’ve always had. That’ a pretty exciting part of the game, going out any day now it could be all over. We’ve just got to keep our heads screwed on.”

Oracle Team USA, owned by software tycoon Larry Ellison of Oracle Corp., needs a miracle to keep the oldest trophy in international sports from being spirited away by the crafty Kiwis.

Oracle was docked two points going into the match following the biggest cheating scandal in the 162-year history of the America’s Cup.

The wind limit of 23 knots was offset by a 3.1-knot ebb tide flowing out of the bay, reducing it to 19.9 knots for Race 12. The wind peaked at 21.5 knots just before the start.

The wind limit was reduced from 33 knots to 23 knots as one of 37 safety recommendations made after British double Olympic medalist Andrew “Bart” Simpson was killed in the capsize of Artemis Racing’s catamaran on May 9.

Oracle tactician Ben Ainslie heard the call to postpone about 30 seconds before the start but didn’t tell his crewmates.

“I thought we were in a good position so we’d just keep going,” Ainslie said. “I heard on the radio but we were right in the middle of the prestart, obviously, and I thought I’d wait until I heard it a few more times over the radio in case I was just believing stuff and I lost the America’s Cup by the wrong radio call.”

Spithill remains determined despite the incredible odds he and his crew face. The Australian took up boxing at a young age because of the grief he took for being a red-head, and he’s not backing down from this fight.

“It can be done,” Spithill said. “I mean, look, we’ve got one hell of a battle on our hands here, but stranger things have happened in sport. I’ve witnessed some pretty big comebacks. This team will fight whole way till the end and we won’t give up. There’s a lot of history in sports of teams coming back from huge deficits.”

In 2010, Spithill, then 30, became the youngest winning skippered in America’s Cup history when he steered Oracle to victory over Alinghi of Switzerland and brought sailing’s biggest prize back to the United States for the first time in 15 years.

While Spithill is one race away from losing the Cup, Barker needs just one more winning sprint around San Francisco Bay for a bit of personal redemption as well as a huge accomplishment for his small island nation of 4.5 million people.

Coutts and a few of his mates then jumped ship for bit paychecks from Alinghi of Switzerland.

That left Barker at the helm of hard-luck Team New Zealand in 2003, when it was swept in five races by Alinghi. The Kiwis had to drop out of two races with breakdowns, including when their mast snapped in two and tumbled into the Hauraki Gulf in Race 4.

Barker sailed the Kiwis back into the America’s Cup match in 2007 before they lost 5-2 to Alinghi.

Coutts has been CEO of Oracle Team USA since the 2010 Cup campaign.

In 1995, Coutts and the late Peter Blake led Team New Zealand to a 5-0 win over Dennis Conner off San Diego to claim the Cup for the first time for New Zealand.

Barker and the rest of the Kiwi crew won Race 11 by 15 seconds earlier Wednesday.

Barker controlled Spithill at the start and led the whole way, building his lead on the crucial upwind third leg toward the Golden Gate Bridge.

Oracle had been sailing better on the course’s only upwind leg but couldn’t quite reel in the Kiwis on Wednesday as the cats zigzagged toward the Golden Gate Bridge. Team New Zealand led by 6 seconds as it turned onto the windward third leg and extended it to 17 seconds as it rounded the next buoy back onto the downwind leg.

The Kiwis watched their lead of about 200 meters shrink to around 70 meters as the boats raced downwind on their foils, their hulls completely out of the water.

“I think it’s the racecourse,” Spithill said. “There’s a lot of opportunities out there. The way the tide set up, and I thought Ben and Tom (Slingsby) did a great job on the beat to keep us in the race.

“They called a pretty nice layline down the bottom out near the boundary on the last run that kept it really close. One little mistake from these guys and we would have been able to pass them. That’s what makes it so great out on the boat is all sorts of opportunities out there.”

Neither crew had a good rounding of the fourth gate, yet the Kiwis sprinted first down the final reaching leg to the finish off America’s Cup Park on Pier 27-29. As usual, there were hundreds of flag-waving New Zealanders cheering them on.

The race began in about 17 knots of wind blowing against a 2-knot ebb tide.

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