Dana Johannsen is the NZ Herald's chief sports reporter

Yachting: Kiwis party, but job not done yet

As the celebrations began on shore for Team New Zealand, the giant 40-metre-tall wingsails of Oracle's two raceboats were spotted off Pier 27 at the America's Cup village.

Some might have seen it as a case of Oracle wanting to flex their muscle and upstage Emirates Team NZ's celebrations following their victory over Luna Rossa in the Louis Vuitton finals. In reality it was probably more a case of the Cup defenders not wanting to waste any opportunity to get some practice on the race course.

In any case, it wasn't as if Team NZ needed reminding the job is not done yet. "I'm really, really proud of what the guys have achieved," said skipper Dean Barker of his team's 7-1 win over Luna Rossa. "But we're definitely here to go one better."

Convincing winners over Luna Rossa in the Louis Vuitton Cup in Valencia six years ago, Barker and his crew have been in the same position before and failed to go on to claim the ultimate prize.

On that occasion they were beaten 5-2 in the Cup match by defenders Alinghi, who were overwhelming favourites.

This time, in a new class of boat, it is about entering the great unknown for the upcoming showdown.

The two teams have been developing their AC72 catamarans in isolation of each other, and it is hard to get a sense on which is shaping up to be the faster boat, opinion varying depending on who you talk to.

"In two weeks we'll have a much better feeling on whether we can close it out or not," said Barker.

"We've got huge confidence in our boat, our people, our preparation and the way our boat is turning out every day we go sailing. I'm really proud of the way the guys are sailing the boat as well. It won't be through lack of trying if we don't take it the next step."

Team NZ have set the benchmark during the challenger rounds - not only did they lead the development curve in the exciting new class, their crew-work and boat handling skills were several notches higher than their competitors' - albeit there were only two of them.

While Luna Rossa had improved greatly from the round robin, they were still out of their depth against Team NZ in the final, the speed differential between the two obvious.

But it hasn't been all smooth sailing for Barker and his crew. The opening two days of the finals were notable for setbacks on the Kiwi boat that kept the team on their toes.

NZL05 suffered gear damage in the opening race after the team took a dramatic nose dive rounding the top mark and ripped away their fairing.

The following day the team were forced to withdraw from the second race with hydraulic failure, handing Luna Rossa their first point over Team NZ in 13 years of competition.

Once they recovered from those hiccups, the Kiwi team have been slick and confident, stringing together six near-flawless performances. Even yesterday, when the weather threw a thick layer of fog over San Francisco Bay, Team NZ kept their wits while Luna Rossa battled in the light, puffy conditions.

Aotearoa will head into the sheds for further modifications over the next few days as the design team look to eke as much development as they can out of the boat in the short time available. But you can bet Oracle, too, will be making a few tweaks before their first meeting in 12 days.

While Barker is the calm, collected man at the helm, showing few nerves over the upcoming match, Team NZ boss Grant Dalton admits Oracle are making him jittery. "I'm a little bit apprehensive, because we think we're fast but we can see they're fast as well - we don't know."

- NZ Herald

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