Oracle Team USA again denied Emirates Team New Zealand an America’s Cup-clinching victory on Friday, snatching the lead in Race 13 and riding it to the finish.
The win by the defending champion came after what appeared to be a certain Kiwi victory was thwarted by light winds that caused the day’s first race to be abandoned due to a time limit to complete the race.
The US must still win six more races in a row to keep New Zealand from the one victory they need to wrest yachting’s coveted Cup from the hands of Oracle team owner Larry Ellison.
“Honestly, we both want to kill each other,” Oracle skipper Jimmy Spithill said when asked how intense the rivalry between the team captains had become. “It is one hell of a fight.”
New Zealand skipper Dean Barker downplayed the tension as “no more than a good old Australia-New Zealand rivalry,” referring to Spithill’s homeland.
Barker described the turn of events on Friday as “frustrating,” but said he remained confident the Cup would be heading for New Zealand.
“It is the third race we have been in the lead and would have won if it wasn’t for wind limits or time limits,” Barker said. “We know we can easily get this done. It is just a matter of going out there tomorrow and racing hard.”
In the single race completed on Friday, the Kiwis beat the US over the starting line and rounded the first mark a few seconds ahead of Oracle.
The defending champions snatched the lead back in a cross-over that resulted in New Zealand being tagged with a penalty.
Oracle dodged to avoid colliding with New Zealand, but jumped ahead and grabbed onto a lead that grew through the pivotal upwind third leg of the race.
The US remained in control of the race and crossed the finish a minute and 24 seconds ahead of the Kiwis.
The Oracle victory came in a Race 13 rematch after light winds forced the first attempt at the race to be halted when the 40-minute time limit was reached just as the Kiwis sailed unchallenged toward the finish.
The Kiwis and the defending champions were nearly even at the start and the US was ahead slightly as the catamarans crept slowly around the first gate.
After days of high-speed racing on the bay, the AC72 catamarans seemed to be moving in slow motion as the teams jockeyed to catch puffs of the capriciously shifting breeze.
New Zealand rounded the third gate more than two minutes ahead of the US. The Kiwis were racing the clock rather than the US from that point forward, but failed to make it past the final marker before time expired.
“Luck beats skill every time,” New Zealand tactician Ray Davies quipped while discussing being beaten by the clock instead of the defending champion.
The outcome was a reprieve for the US, who lost six out of the first seven races, but have since stubbornly refused to surrender the trophy.
“At the start of the regatta, it looked like everything was going against us,” Spithill said. “It feels to me like the tide is turned and it is starting to go our way.”
Scandal-hit Oracle were docked two points for cheating during preliminary regattas, so need 11 wins to retain the Cup, while the Kiwis need nine victories to take the prize.
The defending champions also saw the expulsion of primary wing trimmer Dirk de Ridder.
“It is just full throttle for us,” Spithill said. “We just don’t have an option.”