An ill wind for the Kiwis blew favorably on America's Cup defender Alinghi on Saturday when the Swiss pounced on a sudden shift to score a come-from-behind win and move within one race of hanging onto the Auld Mug.
The 28-second win by Alinghi brought the score to 4-2 in the first-to-five series, leaving the Kiwis facing a do-or-die race yesterday.
"Obviously it's tough," said Kiwi skipper Dean Barker after his crew's third straight loss to the Swiss defenders. "You can't lie and say we don't have our backs to the wall here."
To take the Auld Mug, Emirates Team New Zealand would have to win three straight races in what has already proved to be one of the closest contests in the 156-year history of the cup.
"I certainly prefer to be in my position than Team New Zealand's," Alinghi founder and crewman Ernesto Bertarelli said. "But every single race this week has been fought to the last gybe and I wouldn't take anything for granted."
The Kiwis won the right to challenge Alinghi for the cup after defeating a fleet of 10 other boats in the Louis Vuitton regatta series. The win set the stage for a rematch, after Alinghi -- heavy with crew hired away from New Zealand's America's Cup-winning team from 2000 -- took the cup away from the Kiwis 5-0 in 2003.
Off Valencia, racing and the results have both been close. The Kiwis led 2-1, only to see Alinghi take three straight to make it 4-2.
"It's tough when you see the scoreboard. It could easily have been 3-3, but it's not," Barker said. "It's just been frustrating."
In Saturday's sixth race, with light winds and smooth waters, the Kiwis had a 14-second lead going around the first marker buoy, and seemed in control. However, helmsman Ed Baird aboard Alinghi's SUI100 set off in hot pursuit of the NZL92 yacht and closed the gap to 11 seconds at the second marker.
The yachts charged each other and retreated as they battled it out upwind, when a sudden wind shift forced the New Zealanders to veer left while Alinghi charged straight ahead to pass.
The Swiss, under three-time Cup winner Kiwi Brad Butterworth as skipper, expanded their lead to 16 seconds as they rounded the third marker buoy.
Even though the Kiwis closed to within a boat length or two on the final leg, the Swiss defended their lead.
"It's depressing," said Kiwi fan Allan Yeoman of Auckland.
Saturday's loss came after the Kiwis saw their lead vanish on Friday when one spinnaker tore, they lost control of its replacement, and a third "kite" twisted around itself.
"I think it will be tough now," said another Kiwi fan, William Thomas of Waiheke Island, New Zealand. "Yesterday was bad. That was the cruncher."
Some Swiss fans, despite their delight at the win, were not ready to write off the Kiwis.
"They are equal teams," Adi Klammer said. "I think it is still open. This win today was a big surprise."
At a news conference, Barker took a similar view, saying the margins had just not gone the Kiwis' way.
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