ROYAL NAVAL DOCKYARD, BERMUDA—Emirates Team New Zealand took a 3-0 lead over two-time defending champion ORACLE TEAM USA on Day #2 of the America’s Cup Match finals, living up to the cliché that the team that makes the fewest mistakes sailing the fastest boat usually wins the race.
But despite the considerable deficit, ORACLE TEAM USA skipper Jimmy Spithill expressed confidence that the team could rebound, drawing on the lessons of the team’s historic come-from-behind America’s Cup victory against the Kiwis four years ago.
Heading into the first of two races on Sunday, June 18, amid relatively light and stable winds on Bermuda’s Great Sound, multiple analysts predicted that whichever team got to the starting line first would likely win each race. But the starts of both races, after the usual two-minute prestart jockeying, were pretty much even.
In the first race on Sunday, it was a small ORACLE TEAM USA mistake after Mark 1—a brief splashdown of one of the hulls of its 50-foot foiling catamaran—that allowed Team New Zealand to seize the lead. It was a lead, as per usual, the Kiwis didn’t surrender.
In Sunday’s second race, Team New Zealand grabbed the lead before Mark 1, but this time it was due to its faster boat in the 8- to 9-knot winds. Once again, the Kiwis extended their lead, ultimately cruising to a comfortable win despite relatively clean sailing by ORACLE TEAM USA.
“It’s pretty obvious that those guys are faster, and we need to make some serious changes,” Spithill said in a news conference after the second race, the Oracle team’s fourth defeat to Team New Zealand in four finals races so far in this 35th America’s Cup competition. (The competition stands at only 3-0 because ORACLE TEAM USA entered the finals with a one-point advantage over Team New Zealand—0 points to -1 points—by virtue of having won the double round-robin qualifier series in late May and early June against the Kiwis and four other national competitors.)
“Today, I thought we got off the [starting] line pretty well,” Spithill said, alluding to the Oracle team’s poor starts in Saturday’s two races. “But they were pretty impressive accelerating and in their transitions around the racecourse. Clearly, we now need to put everything back on the table. I think these next five days will be the most important five days of the campaign.”
Four years go, when ORACLE TEAM USA was trailing Team New Zealand 8-1 in the 34th America’s Cup Match finals on San Francisco Bay, the Oracle team didn’t have the benefit of five non-race days to figure things out—and still it managed to win the next eight races to earn its dramatic come-from-behind victory.
Time for Tweaking
This time around, the Match finals don’t resume until next weekend, June 24 and 25, giving the Oracle team’s veteran designers, engineers, data experts, and tacticians much more time to regroup. The first team to 7 points wins the competition.
“When you have five days—man, that’s a lot of time to make changes,” Spithill said, noting that changes to the ORACLE TEAM USA boat’s appendages, control system, wing setup, and other systems, as well the team’s sailing techniques and strategy, are all in play. “The learning still is almost vertical at this point in the game.”
He added: “We’ve proved we can win races against these guys. We topped the qualifier series for a reason. Now we’ve got an opportunity—an opportunity of five days to respond. We’ve been in tough situations before, where we’ve had to overcome a lot of different challenges. Now we have to respond.”