Oracle Team USA and high winds on San Francisco Bay on Thursday kept challenger Emirates Team New Zealand from the one victory needed to take home yachting’s coveted trophy.
The US team rallied to win the race held before winds topped safety limits and caused the second match to be postponed until yesterday.
The defending champions shifted the blame for a fourth frustrating race delay onto the Kiwis, saying they want to raise the wind limit, but the New Zealand team will not agree.
“It just seems a little strange that halfway through a series you need to change a wind limit that has been agreed to [at the start],” New Zealand skipper Dean Barker said. “It doesn’t seem right to change any rules halfway through a series.”
Barker appeared suspect of the motive of the defending champions, whose catamaran has sailed better in higher winds.
Wind racing limits were lowered after the “huge shock” of the death of Artemis team member Andrew “Bart” Simpson while training on the Bay, but fierce on-water bouts have built the skills and confidence of the Cup finalists, who “are up for” racing in higher winds, Oracle skipper Jimmy Spithill reasoned.
The AC72 catamaran of Swedish team Artemis, one of three challenger hopefuls, capsized in May and Simpson, a British double Olympic medalist, drowned after being trapped under the overturned structure.
The sophisticated AC72 catamarans sailed by the teams reach speeds higher than cars crossing the Golden Gate Bridge bordering one side of the tight race course.
The postponement on Thursday was the fourth time racing was canceled due to high winds.
“We want to race,” Spithill said. “I think both teams are up for it. You have a beautiful breeze like this in the afternoon and then you have to come ashore; you ask yourself why you are doing it.”
Oracle are not being spared the stiff winds of a daunting deficit in the best-of-17 series. New Zealand have won eight races and needs just one more to wrest the prized trophy from the grip of Oracle Team USA owner Larry Ellison.
The defending champions have won four races, but still need seven victories to retain the Cup because they were penalized two points before the start for pre-regatta violations.
“We can win seven more races,” Spithill said. “We are confident in our boat and believe we can do it; we almost have nothing to lose.”
Oracle seized control of race 12 at the starting line, hooking the Kiwis and forcing them to tack away and slow while Oracle darted ahead.
The defending champions held the lead into the pivotal upwind third leg of the race, forcing a second split at the third gate and then controlling the downwind leg to the final gate.
Oracle crossed the finish line 31 seconds ahead of the Kiwis.
Oracle have scrambled to make changes to their yacht after being repeatedly outsailed by the Kiwis, markedly improving their performance, but not washing away doubts that they can deny New Zealand a single clinching triumph.
“We don’t believe this is over until we win one more race,” Barker said. “It is a battle. You have to fight hard for each point; there are no give-mes.”
The America’s Cup, first contested in 1851, has been held since 2010 by Ellison.
The technology industry titan, whose personal fortune is estimated at about US$40 billion beat Alinghi’s giant Swiss catamaran 2-0 three years ago in Valencia, Spain, with a 30m long rigid wing trimaran.