AC34: Oracle Team USA demonstrates new pace and rekindles Yankee hopes

34th America’s cup - Oracle team USA in action
Oracle Team USA media
I’m not sure what Oracle Team USA has been putting in their team’s Kool-Aide (given that the Cup is in San Francisco, the possibilities are endless), but there’s no question that Jimmy Spithill and company are now in fine fighting mode. Their boat has been retooled, their crew work is noticeably tighter, and their upwind speed has dramatically improved. The only real question remaining is whether the American-flagged Defender can win eight more races before the Challenger, Emirates Team New Zealand (ETNZ) can bag another two wins to claim the Cup.

Having just spent the past week and a half breathing the rarified air of an America’s Cup, there are a few absolutes that I can share: I’d much rather still be in San Francisco than in Seattle right now (the only time in my life that I’ve wanted to leave the Pacific Northwest!), the racing is now nail-biting close, the boats are spectacular (if not a bit terrifying), and (another first for my pen) high-end catamarans can produce outstanding match racing, especially when coupled with 60-knot closing speeds and other high-commitment moves.

Emirates Team New Zealand ducks Oracle Team USA just before the top mark in race ten on day six of America's Cup 34. 15/9/2013


If you thought that the 34th America’s Cup would be a yawner, you can be pleasantly surprised (if not enthralled) by the drama that’s unfurling on San Francisco Bay.

Now, back to Oracle’s problem with remaining runway time. Look at the numbers coming off the boats, and it’s clear that we now have two evenly matched teams on two evenly matched boats, but just a week ago this wasn’t the case. Dean Barker, ETNZ’s skipper, long maintained that Oracle would improve throughout the first few races and that Oracle would be a stern competitor. This prophecy has proven correct, as the Defender has worked hard to improve their boatspeed and their board-to-board agility, showing far more improvement over the last five days than the Kiwis over this same time period.

Oracle Team USA - 34th America's Cup


For ETNZ fans, this isn’t great news, but for fans of great racing, Oracle’s evolution couldn’t have come at a better time. Recent races have seen constant changes to the on-the-water pole position as the boats foil around the course, and-a rarity in AC sailing-this Cup has been anything but the total shutdown of Cups of yore.

So will Oracle muster the go-fast juice needed to power-out eight more wins? This is hard to say at the moment, as so much hinges on the psychological element (and perhaps the Kool-Aide). If Oracle can win a few back-to-back bullets, there’s no question that momentum would be in their favor, but it’s important to counter this Yankee optimism with the simple fact that it’s far easier to win two races than it is to bag eight. That said, Oracle’s newfound pace, coupled with their now-legitimate underdog status, seems to be breathing more fight into this squad than we’ve seen since the aftermath of their October 16, 2012 capsize.

Emirates Team New Zealand and Oracle Team USA manouver for starting positions for race ten on day six of America's Cup 34. 15/9/2013


Today’s races are forecasted to be fairly breezy affairs (20-25 knots), and the strong (and building throughout the afternoon) ebb tide means that the enforced wind limits will be fairly low for today’s races (20.3 knots and 20.1 knots, respectively), so it will interesting to see if the RC is able to successfully rifle off any races. Remember, even if a race is started, the RC can (and will) cancel racing due to high average winds until the time that the boats round the top of Leg Three, so even if racing begins, things can still head south.

For Oracle and American interests, wind cancellations are excellent news, as it buys the team more time to work-up their boat. It’s unclear what any possible delays could mean for the Kiwis, but there’s little doubt that antipodean fans want to claim the Cup as fast as possible, so as to avoid giving the Defender any extra runway time.

Sir Robin Knox-Johnston - 2014 Route du Rhum
Route du Rhum


Racing is set for Tuesday (two races), Wednesday (two races) and Thursday (two races)-baring any wind delays-as well as Saturday (two races) and Sunday (two races). While Kiwi fans will not enjoy the anxiety of additional races, selfishly, this extra sailing is nothing but unexpected dividends for the sailing community. Enjoy!

May the four winds blow you safely home,