America's Cup - Down to the last innings - Who will hit the Home Run?

by . 
Oracle Team USA and Emirates Team New Zealand come together on the start line. There was contact and ETNZ sustained a penalty. Race 17, America’s Cup 34.
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Race 17, Day 14 of the longest running America's Cup, was the same song, second verse of had gone before. Oracle Team USA inflicted a double penalty, got the jump at the start in Race 17 and was never headed.

In Race 18, Emirates Team NZ took to Oracle in the start, gave them a dose of their own aggressive medicine, but let the lead go with a tactical error on Leg 2, and followed that with a second more decisive error on Leg 3.

The errors in both races, handed Oracle Team USA two more points. Now the 34th Match for the America’s Cup is poised with both teams facing a sudden-death playoff for the oldest trophy in international sport.

For the past week, nothing has changed for the Challenger, Emirates Team New Zealand, who remain locked on Match Point.

Last Wednesday, the wind meter on the Race Committee vessel tripped over the 20kt mark for 30 seconds, in the final run to the start line. Emirates Team NZ coming in from the starboard entry, tried a timed run on Oracle Team USA, got over the top of them with pace, and looked set to win their final point, and take the Cup home to Auckland.

Emirates Team New Zealand skipper Dean Barker

A week is a long time in politics. It is an eternity in the white-hot, unforgiving, world of the current America’s Cup.

We flew out of San Francisco late that Wednesday evening, and into New Zealand, a country that was enthralled and at a standstill with America’s Cup fever.

Television viewership records were being broken on a daily basis, and the Kiwi nation had found an interest in the regatta and sailing that hadn’t been there since 2007, and maybe right back to 1986/87 where the New Zealand America’s Cup involvement first began.

But the heart of the Kiwi nation was ripped from its body today, still beating hard, on Leg 3 of today’s Race 18.

Day 14 - The Cat with 10 lives

Faithful NZ fans enjoyed 12 minutes of cheering and ecstasy, before slumping back into the foetal position, with eyes and ears covered, for the remainder of the last race.

Immediate reaction was that the Oracle Team USA machine are unstoppable.

To some extent Kiwi sailing fans are now revisiting the 2003 America’s Cup, lost by New Zealand, in its home waters.

The feeling was the same, each day you went on the water, hoping that today would be the day when the tide started running Team New Zealand’s way. And every day it was a new twist on the previous theme.

The difference between then and now, a decade later, is that in one 20 minute period of brilliance New Zealand can still win the 34th America’s Cup.

There were encouraging signs from today’s two results.

Oracle Team USA tactician Ben Ainslie Race 17 - 18

Take the start of Race 2, which New Zealand won, and had Barker been able to get another half metre further forward, would surely have been able to get a penalty on Oracle Team USA.

Add to that the body of today’s first race, where Emirates Team NZ hardly dropped a second of time, after a disastrous start, and you have the genesis of the home run that has eluded the New Zealanders for a week.

For their part, Oracle Team USA, will be looking to maintain the momentum on which they have been rolling all week. Their new afterguard has clicked, to the point where they just don’t make errors.

In addition they have the confidence to sail aggressively at the start, and until this afternoon were able to win the first mark and go on to take the race.

The Defender’s speed through the water appears impressive off the live TV coverage. Particularly when a high speed is flicked onto the screen, and the Kiwis are in a soft spot.

A review of the post-race statistics shows that there is not a lot of difference between the top and average speeds of the boats in the up and downwind sections, of the racing. And in the vital statistic of distance sailed, the two competitors are either the same, or Oracle Team USA sails the longer distance, often several hundred metres more.

Oracle Team USA spear in on the start of race 18. America’s Cup - Day 14
Kurt Molnar ©

Oracle have a great love of shifting into a foiling mode upwind. That is where they burn the distance, for the gain of a higher boat speed. The benefit comes from hitting a section of the course where there is more pressure in the breeze (which typically occurs along the Alcatraz shore), or a favourable shift in the breeze, which give the magic combination of faster speed for no loss in angle.

Emirates Team NZ have come in for a bagging in the past week, for their tactical errors.

The point here is that there is no textbook on match racing tactics for foiling multihulls. It is part of the tacticians’ craft that is being learned on the water day by day.

Applying traditional match racing tactics is often a mistake, as Emirates Team NZ did in the start of the first race today getting too close as a windward boat, stalling and then sailing sideways into Oracle Team USA.

24/09/2013 - San Francisco (USA,CA) - 34th America's Cup - Oracle Team USA vs Emirates Team New Zealand, Race Day 14

The tactical blue in Race 2 of the day was to try and tack underneath Oracle Team USA in the opening stanzas of Leg 3.

Again a valid tactic in monohulls, but in 72ft foiling catamarans, it is not a good option when you opposition is coming at you at 30kts, and you drop to 7kts in the bottom of the tack – it takes a lot of acceleration to get out of that hole – and if the distances and speed are misjudged, then it is all over – as happened today.

The conventional tactic of 'cross’em when you can' is much better – accompanied by a dial down to add a few more boat lengths to the port-tacker’s woes.

Both teams have the ability to carry the final day. It will be fascinating to see who prevails.

For the America’s Cup herself, tomorrow is also a very crucial day.

After the race a Challenge will be handed to the winner, and the 35th America's Cup will begin.

24/09/2013 - San Francisco (USA,CA) - 34th America's Cup - Oracle Team USA vs Emirates Team New Zealand, Race Day 14

The survival of the America’s Cup is on the line.

The days of billionaire backed teams are over, if the Cup is to remain as a competition for more than a couple of teams. If the financial Goliaths of the America’s Cup strike a deal tomorrow for the next Cup – part of that Challenge has to be that their style of campaign will be disestablished.

The days of teams of the best professional sailors that money can buy, competing for whichever country will write their pay check, must end tomorrow.

Stay tuned to our website www.Sail-World.com for daily updates on how the action finally unfolds in the 34th America’s Cup.

Good sailing!

Richard Gladwell .
Sail-World's America's Cup News Editor

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24/09/2013 - San Francisco (USA,CA) - 34th America's Cup - Final Match - Racing Day 14


24/09/2013 - San Francisco (USA,CA) - 34th America's Cup - Final Match - Racing Day 14